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on 29 September 2000
While carrying out under cover activities for British intelligence in occupied France, Charlotte Gray goes in search of her lover - an RAF pilot who has gone missing in France. But don't be deceived, this is no straight forwrd love story. Her journey takes her through a country riven by anti-English sentiment and anti-semitism. Through the Jewish characters she encounters in the resistance movement and their tragic fate, Charlotte is able to see her own life in a new and more complete perspective. This is a wonderful novel that perfectly captures time and place. The characters and sentiments all feel true to the period. And the passages towards the end of the book concerning the treatment of innocent young children in the concentration camp in Poland are heart-rending and harrowing in the extreme. The politics and oppressiveness of the Vichy regime are very well conveyed. This haunting book will stay with you for a long time.
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on 7 September 1999
Having only ever read (and enjoyed) Faulks' "Birdsong" before I looked forward to meeting Charlotte Gray. I was not disappointed.
This is a moving and disturbing story of one young woman's experiences as an undercover courier in France during the 1940's. Charlotte comes over almost as an anti-hero, she is at once sophisticated yet naive, caring yet callous, brave yet timid (or foolhardy?). Although the main plot revolves around her attempts to track down her English lover, reported as missing in action after being shot down over France, this is NOT a love story. The imagery created by the narrative puts you deep in the heart of war-torn France, with all the personal conflicts and emotions of the people involved on all sides. The sub-plot around the two Jewish boys, tragically separated from their parents ... is the most moving part of the book. Told through their eyes, we feel their innocence and the way they instinctively trust and follow any adult they come into contact with, secure in the mistaken belief that they will one day be reunited with their parents. WE know what is happening to them - THEY don't. Their final scene ... almost made me cry. We should all be ashamed of man's inhumanity to man at times of war. Charlotte too, in tracing the boys to a "work camp", herself naively believes that the boys will only to put to work. We never know if she realises at the end exactly how far from the truth she was ...
The book's only flaw is the half-hearted attempt to examine Charlotte's relationship with her father. I felt it had no real bearing on the development of her character ...
All in all, a great read. But prepare to be traumatised, and have some misconceptions about the French Resistance movement shattered.
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on 18 March 2002
I seem to be alone in not finding Birdsong the most marvellous book ever - possibly because I read it just after Pat Barker's Regeneration trilogy, which I found much more involving.
The problem I had with Birdsong was that, when reading about an event in which millions of people died, I find it hard to care about a single love affair. It is very difficult to write about such tragic and all-consuming world events without reducing the love lives of two single people to triviality.
Charlotte Grey somehow transcended this, making the love plot both moving, involving and seemingly symbolic of all the hope and suffering that participants in the war must have experienced. The beautiful writing and marvellously realised, convincing and sympathetic characters give the affair a sense of universality. Even against the grim and traumatic backdrop of the Vichy government's collaberation with the Germans and their seemingly enthusiastic participation in the persecution of the Jews, Charlotte's love affair and her struggle for personal happiness seem both engrossing and important.
On top of that, I found it a real page-turner - couldn't stop reading it. Great, great book.
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on 13 August 1999
Little does the unwary reader suspect how their emotions will be squeezed, stirred and hung out to dry as they follow Charlotte Gray into war - torn 1940's France. Sebastian Faulks has again produced a novel of great power and perception, which, coupled with his extraordinary ability to breath life into his characters, makes Charlotte Gray one of the most deeply disturbing novels I have ever read. Yet, as with Birdsong, having ruthlessly exposed the horrific inhumanity of man during times of conflict, Faulks shows us the sliver of light at the end of the tunnel, the hope which makes it all bearable. The images spinning off the pages of this book will live with you for a LONG time. Mr Faulks, you are a dangerous man.
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on 18 June 2001
I bought this book for the author rather than the story, 'Birdsong' being one of the most powerful books I have ever had the pleasure to read. It certainly is a different kind of story (and War) and I only realised the connection with one of the Birdsong characters when I was well into this book. I cannot say I found it a riveting read for most of the book, but what comes across strongly is the internal struggle in France during the Second World War,not so much with the Occupier, but between the French themselves. This manifests itself in Charlotte Gray's dealings with individuals and the various factions, all of whom seem to have different agendas. Most hate the Germans, some the British, and some their own French countrymen.I had never appreciated the division and strength of feeling, and ultimately what it did to some, namely the Jewish people. What builds to an inevitible and awful conclusion in the last 50 or so pages of the book, eclipses the rest to the extent that nothing else seemed to have happened. It brings the Holocaust down to an individual level where the suffering is almost too much to contemplate, and focuses on three people, two of them young children, amongst the tide of humanity caught up in that horrendous and dark period of our social history. This is but a small part of the book, but will remain in one's mind for a long time.
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on 3 November 2002
"Charlotte Gray" is one of those books that you cannot put down. It is an amazing novel showing the courage of a young woman who wants to save her lover and who wants to meet her childhood self by going back to France, the place that she loved so much.
In her undercover adventure she meets and becomes friends with people that without the war she would never have had the chance to meet, yet because of the war she also loses some of them in painful and demeaning circumstances. The novel brilliantly conveys what life must have been like in 1940's France and the descriptions of the concentration camps are terrifyingly realistic. This novel is one of love, romance, friendships and trust. It is well worth a read.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 13 August 2014
This is a harrowing tale which depicts a dark past in Vichy France during World War II. The treatment of Jewish people was appalling - I knew about Germany and Poland - but France - i didn't know. The story is set around the story of a young British girl parachuted into France to help the resistance, who also has her own agenda in trying to find her lost RAF pilot lover.

The writing brilliantly depicts an era - dark and shameful - and is much stronger in that depiction than in the narrative of the story. I can't say I enjoyed it much - it is far too dark for that, and the story seems to be a vehicle for the portrayal of a time and place.

I have enjoyed many of Sebastian Faulks' books - this is different. Darker and less plot driven, it does not always make for pleasant reading.
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on 24 July 2004
'Charlotte Gray' is the second novel of Sebastian Faulks that I have had the pleasure to read. I read 'Birdsong' while on camping holiday in France. Strong word of mouth reviews from friends and the Flanders setting dovetailed together for a promising holiday read. It sustained me through two weeks of heatwave and mosquito bites.
We returned to France this year. My wife organised the kids, luggage , ferry... I purchased 'Charlotte Gray'. I finished it before we left the house.
Never in my entire life have read a work of fiction that so skillfully handles the subject of evil. The beginning chapters are set in England after the Battle of Britain. War is a threat, but a distant one. The eponymous heroine subsequently finds herself in France. The author hints of what is to come, but with paucity. Then, slowly, gradually, a pall of menace descends over the lives of Charlotte and her fellow conspirators.

I have two small boys. They are the same ages as Andre and Jacob, two Jewish inhabitants of the village in 'Free France' where the main body of the story is set. Faulks got the feeling of the relationship between two young brothers just right. Essentially their story is a subplot. As I read, however, I kept wondering ..."how are the boys doing?"
Pranging emotions with the tribulations of children doesn't always work, especially in fiction. This time it was different. The authors unflinching depiction of the familiar story of the Holocaust disturbed me - mentally, emotionally even physically. You could not make it up; the Vichy regime deported over 70,000 Jews. Faulks has achieved the unique feat of making this reader nauseous, yet all the more grateful for it. I could not stomach it again, though.
This novel offers so much more. I loved the way Faulks rose to the challenge of conveying Charlotte's intelligence. In one scene, she is subjected to a series of psychometric tests. One of the tests involves one word responses to random words suggested by the attending psychologist. I would love to know how long it took the author to decide upon the Charlotte's answers!
Read it. Beware though if you are a parent. I am still affected. Those were dark, dark times.
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on 21 June 2016
I'm about half way through and, at the moment, absolutely nothing seems to be happening - lots and lots of description which I've ploughed my way through in the hope that something might happen. I live, and continue reading, in hope. I simply loved 'Birdsong' but, just now, I am really disappointed with 'Charlotte Gray'.
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on 20 January 2016
A beautifully written book on love, loss, and the power of others.
Set in WW11 with parts of WW1 included Sebastian Faulks has a breathtakingly way with words. His simple descriptions of the horrors seen in the first war as told by Charlotte’s father all made me stop reading and be still for a few minutes. I cannot imagine anyone in the 21st Century going through so much for the potential of love after a few meetings as Charlotte did, and yet in this book it seems the most natural thing to do.
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