The second in his French trilogy, un-related to the first, ‘Birdsong’, except in reference to the lingering trauma from the First World War, and the location. This is a story of doomed love, set against the distant but looming threat of Nazi Germany and the instability of French politics in the 1930’s, and it can certainly be read as a stand alone novel – it is certainly shorter and less upsetting than Birdsong, but, having said that, I have had it on my mind since I completed it!
The girl in question is a mysterious, young and attractive girl who arrives in a provincial town to work as a waitress at a hotel owned by an invisible Patron, and run by the doughty Mme Bouin, an initially unappealing character, but in typical Faulks style, a short and beautifully written scene quite late in the novel gives a compelling insight into who she is – and yes, it is an after effect of the war. As is the mystery of the Patron, and so many other elements of the novel.
Anne herself, our main character, also has a shrouded past which is not revealed until later in the book, by which time she is embroiled in an affair with an older, married man, driven by a desperate need for security and love, two things that we discover she has been sadly lacking in since she was a child.
The novel opens with a brief foreword, beginning – ‘The French newspapers in the 1930’s offered a mixture of rumour, spite, and inaccuracy’. It describes three incidents – two involving high profile men, the third, an unknown girl. And it concludes – ‘Compared to the deaths of public men like Stavinsky and Salengro, the fate of an unknown girl was not important. It had no significance.’
And that, I concluded after a few days thought, is the beauty of this book. It gives significance to the unimportant, the ordinary people of the town, and most especially, the girl, Anne. Reading this during the week in which we, the ordinary British people, were, in my humble opinion, given the clear message that we have absolutely no significance by our Prime Minister and his chief advisor – one rule for the elite during lock-down, another for the rest of us – that closing phrase in the foreword of this beautiful novel took on a whole new meaning.
I bought a copy of this as I simply couldn’t find Mum’s; I am sure it will turn up, (I have so many of her books here!), but in the meantime, I’m hoping somebody would like this one – I am happy to post it to you if you’d like to read it… and I do recommend it. Charlotte Gray is the third in the French trilogy, set in the Second World War, and I’ll be reading that again soon!
So, please get in touch either here or through the Facebook or Instagram pages! and I would love to hear what other readers have thought of this quite un-assuming, but actually very powerful, book!