Friday, June 30, 2017


For the first time he believed that his own life, however tarnished in his eyes, was what was necessary for the redemption of hers.
Sebastian Faulks, Charlotte Gray

That line near the end of Charlotte Gray (1998) helped bring into focus a Sebastian Faulks novel that had been a bit fuzzy to me from the beginning. Having seen the movie based on the novel I had expected a World War II thriller, as well as a different kind of love story. The novel does have its tense moments, but they don't last long and they always seem secondary. But what are they secondary to? So much of the story seems too much like real life with its apparently directionless plot.

Charlotte Gray is an attractive young woman from Scotland who goes to London in 1942 to help with the war effort. She is the daughter of an officer in Birdsong, the bestselling World War I novel that was the second book in the Faulks trilogy that also includes The Girl at the Lion d'Or. Because she speaks French so well, she is sent to France for what is supposed to be a short mission.

But her lover, an airman named Peter Gregory, has been shot down somewhere in France, and Charlotte decides to stay and try to find him. Meanwhile she becomes involved with a Frenchman who falls in love with her though he doesn't even know her real name and also in the plight of two Jewish boys whose mother has already been taken to a camp in Poland. In the end she can rescue neither Peter nor the boys, though she herself is saved and manages to return to England, as does Peter Gregory with the help of others.

So redemption seems to be what Faulks is writing about. Sometimes we can succeed in saving others. Often we can't. Still we must try. Reunited with Charlotte, Peter realizes his role in her redemption (those are his thoughts in the above quote). And then Charlotte helps her own father find redemption. Father and daughter have been estranged since her girlhood for reasons neither is clear about. Still traumatized by his war experiences, he had said something or did something to his young daughter that, while short of sexual abuse, had much the same impact. Charlotte returns home to see her mother, but it is her father whom she helps bring home to her.

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