Thursday, May 12, 2005

Charlotte Gray

Watched Charlotte Gray the other day. After having read the book and having loved it... I was prepared to be disappointed by the movie. Surprisingly the movie does justice to the book. Of course you miss out on some things which only a book can hand you but overall the movie captures the essence of the novel.

Faulks has this inimitable style of storytelling in the tradition of other great storytellers. He is able to breathe life into his characters and create each one as a unique person with his/her own moral strength and weaknesses. When you get to know his characters you revel in their human-ness and you identify with their reactions. And then there is the landscape he provides and the authentic setting for the story. His research to this end is faultless.

Have always considered Sebastian Faulks' war triology an education into the effects of war, not just on the frontline soldiers and civilians but more importantly on generations thereafter for whom the war and its brutalities are a grotesque legacy they can't escape. It will indeed take a whole post by itself to write about 'Birdsong' which is my personal favorite. But since this post is about C.G. let me stick to it.

C.G is about an ordinary woman's journey through the roller coaster of war and her subsequent emergence as a different woman, now touched by the ghost of war and made extraordinary, stronger by her experiences. She loses her lightness of spirit and naivete and gains a strength and steeliness of heart which her earlier, normal, pre-war life would never have afforded her.

Charlotte Gray is a young British woman whose lover is a fighter pilot. She is inordinately fond of France, having been exposed to Parisian life when she was younger and is quite anguished by the atrocities the Nazi occupation has brought upon France. As a contribution to the war effort and on an impulse she signs up for a training to be a spy. Meanwhile her lover is lost in a foray into Nazi occupied France. Charlotte is quite devastated on learning of this and encouraged by a typically childish fantasy of finding him and bringing him back she volunteers to go into France on a recon mission. This decision of hers is made not with some noble objective in mind. It is actually brought about due to a more personal reason. Later on in the book one of the characters, a veteran of WW-I, says something to the effect that you fight wars not for your country but for someone you love. And as the reader you understand this completely.

In France she meets another man, a different kind of man, stronger, quieter... and the changes that the war has wrought in her enables her to understand more of and relate more to this Frenchman. As far as her recon mission is concerned, she fails. She fails also in finding her lover whom she wrongly assumes to be dead on the basis of some information she collects. But through the book the reader never realises her failures. On the contrary in her struggle and her survival, one sees the truimph not just of one woman but of a whole people who had been beaten down by war and yet were unvanquished because they kept the good in them alive. They loved and they had faith. They touched many other lives and inspite of their own misfortunes, they helped someone else get by.

And as is characteristic of the other books in the triology, this one too has side-stories. One of them is that of Julien's (the Frenchman's) father who is an eccentric painter living alone in a sprawling, dilapidated mansion. Also there are 2 Jewish children whose parents have been deported and they are being hidden by Julien in his father's house.

It is a lovely story, brilliantly told by Faulks and it leaves you shaken and yet touched, saddened and yet oddly happy, horrified by war yet inspired by the moral and emotional struggle people go through to survive it.