Summary and book reviews of Charlotte Gray by Sebastian Faulks

Charlotte Gray

By Sebastian Faulks

Charlotte Gray
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  • Hardcover: Feb 1999,
    339 pages.
    Paperback: Jul 2000,
    255 pages.

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Book Summary

Faulks' first novel since the extraordinary success of Birdsong is written with the same passion, power and breadth of vision. Set in England and France during the darkest days of World War II, Charlotte Gray, like Birdsong, depicts a complex love affair that is both shaped and thwarted by war.
        
It is 1942. London is blacked out, but France is under a greater darkness, as the occupying Nazi forces encroach ever closer in a tense waiting game. Charlotte Gray, a volatile but determined young woman, travels south from Edinburgh. Working in London, she has a brief but intense love affair with an RAF pilot. When his plane is lost over France, she contrives to go there herself to work in the Resistance and to search for him--but then is unwilling to leave as she finds that the struggle for the country's fate is intimately linked to her own battle to take control of her life.
        
Faulks' novel is an examination of lost paradises, politics without belief, the limits of memory, the redemptive power of art and the existence of hope beyond reason. It is also a brilliant evocation of life in Occupied France and, more significantly, a revelation of the appalling price many Frenchmen paid to survive in unoccupied, so-called Free France. As the men, women and children of Charlotte's small town prepare to meet their terrible destiny, the truth of what took place in wartime France is finally exposed.
        
When private lives and public events fatally collide, the roots of the characters' lives are torn up and exposed. These harrowing scenes are presented with the passion and narrative force that readers will recall from Birdsong. Charlotte Gray will attract even more readers to Faulks' remarkable fiction.

Peter Gregory kicked the door of the dispersal hut closed behind him with the heel of his boot. He sensed the iciness of the air outside but was too well wrapped to feel it on his skin. He looked up and saw a big moon hanging still, while ragged clouds flew past and broke up like smoke in the darkness. He began to waddle across the grass, each step won from the limits of movement permitted by the parachute that hung down behind as he bucked and tossed his way forward. He heard the clank of the corporal fitter's bicycle where it juddered over the ground to his right. The chain needed oiling, he noted; the man was in the wrong gear and a metal mudguard was catching on the tyre with a rhythmic slur as the wheel turned.

He could see the bulk of his plane ahead, large in the night, with the three-bladed propeller stopped at a poised diagonal, the convex sweep of the upper fuselage looking sleeker in the darkness than by day. The fitter dropped his bicycle to the ground. He made ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
Charlotte Gray begins in 1942. London is blacked out, while France suffers under a much greater darkness with half the country under Nazi occupation and the other half a "Free" Zone led by a French puppet government. After a brief but intense love affair with an RAF pilot whose plane disappears over France, Charlotte Gray, a volatile young Scottish woman, contrives to go to France and join the Resistance so that she might search for him. Her Resistance work moves her in ways she had hardly expected, and soon she decides to stay on under her assumed identity, finding that the struggle for the country's fate is intimately linked to her own battle to take control of her life.

For discussion: Charlotte Gray
  1. Why does Charlotte so ...
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Reviews

Media Reviews
Literary Review

Faulks has the rare gift of being popular and literary at the same time. Its page-turning quality in no way undermines the darkness that it describes.

The Independent on Sunday (UK)

It would take a mile-long essay to do justice to the many virtues of Sebastian Faulks' wonderful new novel. This riveting account of a young Scotswoman's odyssey through wartime London, and on into a perilous secret mission in Vichy France, deserves the highest praise. . . . Proustian cogitations, masterful narrative, and zestful pen portraits. A beautiful, near-masterpiece.

Sunday Telegraph (UK)

One of the most impressive novelists of his generation . . . who is growing in authority with every book.

Financial Times (UK)

Faulks is beyond doubt a master.

Daily Express (UK)

A worthy successor to Birdsong. It is hard to imagine anyone who enjoyed the last novel not finding great interest and pleasure in this one. In Charlotte, Faulks has created a wonderfully complex and engaging heroine, with whom it is hard not to fall a little in love.--

Reader Reviews
Arran

An awful read - I'm struggling to write anything positive about it!
I am currently studying A2 English Literature, and as our first piece of coursework this year we must compare Charlotte Gray and Captain Corelli's Mandolin. I'm actually struggling to say anything positive about either book! Charlotte Gray was a ...   Read More

William Santiago

Captivating but Unsatisfying
Alexandra, above, has the right idea about this book: there's less to it than meets the eye. For example: o Main character is always portrayed as a marvelous, determined woman--everybody says so--yet she spends a lot of time not doing very much....   Read More

rach

What?!
I loved this book and learned a lot about France during the war. Whatever happened at the end though? I can understand the idea of a parallel with the boys- ie going through a door to their fate-death for the boys and a life together for Charlotte ...   Read More

Olly J d

Oh Dear
Sebastian Faulks imagines himself one of the great British autors of the twentieth century. He is not. There are lines so bad in this book I had to read them out loud to myself to appreciate their awfulness. The plot is non-existant. Charlotte goes ...   Read More

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