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CHARLOTTE GRAY by Sebastian Faulks Kirkus Star

CHARLOTTE GRAY

By Sebastian Faulks

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0375704558
Publisher: Random

England's redoubtable Faulks (A Fool's Alphabet, 1993; Birdsong, 1996) offers up a third solid, alluring, durable novel-set in 1942-43, just as the tide begins to turn, however slightly, against the Nazis. Charlotte Gray--pretty, intelligent, well-educated--is in her middle 20s when she leaves her native Scotland for London, hoping that in the capital she can do something more significant for the war effort. She wouldn't have expected, though, that a chance encounter with a worker in the secret diplomatic corps would lead to her being interviewed by ""G Section"" and sent (in careful disguise) to France to work within the very gradually unifying Resistance there. Even though (before she's parachuted into the village of Lavourette) Charlotte has fallen passionately in love with war-wearied RAF pilot Peter Gregory (who, not long after, ""goes missing""), and even though her also-intense love of France is muddied by a badly impacted father-complex (her aloof parent, now a psychoanalyst, fought there in WWI), Charlotte is anything but the typically starry-eyed girl looking for love, adventure, and meaning. Faulks's perfect and never false descriptions of France under the Occupation--the hunger, the monochrome bleakness, the increasing danger--suit Charlotte's mature young character just as perfectly as do the people she meets (Julien Levade, the idealistic young architect and resistance worker; his aging failed-artist father; varieties of townspeople on both the political left and right) and as do the dangers she herself encounters: never melodramatic, always riveting. Nor have grief and horror been more wrenchingly and unremittingly portrayed than here when first Julien's father and then the two young Jewish boys whom Julien has been hiding are sent to the camps and their deaths. What happens to Charlotte in the end may be less satisfying than other elements of her story, but the resolution, even so, leaves nothing of seriousness behind. A war novel that should take its place among the masterpieces of the genre.