Charlotte Gray by Sebastian Faulkes
I feel very quiet around this novel, which is unusual for me. It is the sort of book that makes you wish for a silent corner in which to read, reflect and consider and since finishing the book, the story has very much stayed with me. I haven't told you a lot there have I? I'm not being deliberately vague, honestly!
The titular character, Charlotte Gray, comes from Scotland and after having a brief, passionate affair with airman Peter Gregory, decides to join the British Special Operations Group in the hope of being deployed to France where she can search for Peter who by now is missing in action.
We follow Charlotte's story as she is recruited, inducted and then sent to the small town of Lavaurette in the Free Zone of France. There, she carries out her secret missions as well as trying to locate Peter, unsure if he is even alive.
At times, it is a very hard read. Sebastian Faulkes evokes the feel of a small, French town, its inhabitants and their differing political views. Peoples everyday lives go on, but the threat of German occupation of the town and more worryingly what will happen to the town's Jewish residents is creeping ever closer.
2 little boys, Jacob and Andre are hidden, and we follow their story alongside Charlotte's as they are exposed and rounded up to be sent to Paris and then onward. I found this the most harrowing part and at times found myself in tears that such hatred could lead to the destruction of such innocence.
Charlotte takes refuge with Leucide, the father of her contact in France and through him we witness as he also takes the same journey as the boys. The writing is achingly sad, but important.
At times the complex alliances and divisions in the town become the focus for the novel. Charlotte, a very capable young woman, has this weave its web around her as factions turn on factions, neighbour on neighbour.
This is an important book. It references the brave women sent into France by the British Government, many of whom died. It also shows how far people are willing to go for love. Whilst it demonstrates how bad things can get and how dreadfully people can behave, the book also portrays humanity, how far they would be willing to go to seek out a lover, or try and save 2 little boys.
Charlotte Gray is a beautifully written, evocative and at times, distressing read, which makes it such an important novel to read.