May 15, 2021
Charlotte Gray has a pretty grim cover image of a train station, smokiness, a woman in a big coat. Plus it’s set in World War II so we know it will be covering harsh territory. I almost didn’t read it, but I’m so glad that I did. It’s the kind of book that gets under your skin – Charlotte Gray is a vivid, authentic character who pulls you by the hand into her world. When we meet her at the beginning of the novel she’s a naïve girl from Scotland, catching the train to London because she wants to make a difference during the second world war.
She finds a makeshift room in a flat with two other girls, thanks to a connection of her mother’s. She gains a job as a receptionist for a plastic surgeon, and feels she is contributing to the war effort because many of the patients are men back from the war n need of reconstructions. However, on the fateful train trip to London she was in a carriage with two men working for the Government, and one of them had said if she ever gets bored with her work at the doctor’s office, he could put her in touch with some people …
When Charlotte falls in love with a fighter pilot she wants to do more than be a receptionist, and instead to be on the cutting edge of the war effort, as he is. She signs on for more direct action, and due to her French language skills, is consigned to parachute drop into France to aid the resistance efforts.
All through Charlotte’s time in France she is hoping to reunite with Peter Gregory, her fallen airman. The actions she takes, and the deep bonds she forms with the people she meets in this high risk environment, are vividly explored. I feel like I have been there, that I can revisit this in my mind – this is a novel that truly leaves a mark – giving me both an emotional and historical understanding of that time, of what people lived through, and how they were able to rise to such astonishing challenges. Huge tests of character are involved when loyalty can cost you your life.