The Reading Room

The Girl at the Lion d’Or

Review of Sebastian Faulks’ ‘The Girl at the Lion d’Or’..

When it comes to Sebastian Faulks’ work I have, for no reason, found myself reading most of his novels in reverse order with this, his second book, one of the few left that I had not read. Part of a loose trilogy of books set in France, Faulks sets the scene in a small, coastal town called Janvilliers (not the real one) and three places in particular; a village inn, a manor house undergoing restoration and lodgings for the book’s central characters, Anne and Charles.

Essentially it is a book which showcases the hopelessness of many a love affair, Anne is a young woman who arrives with nothing and leaves with even less. Faulks talent is to create a sense of tragic futility and naivety which weaves its way through the book until its end. Love affairs usually affect those on the periphery and the inclusion of a wife for Charles who suspects and eventually knows, gives the romance of the affair a bitter edge. Faulks adds an extra dimension to the story; an age gap. Anne is young and beautiful, alone and struggling to survive, Charles is a successful lawyer dividing his time between Paris and his chateau but he is fundamentally weak, he cannot control the workman who are renovating his home and his betrayal of his wife with a girl he would never marry places the two women at the forefront of our sympathies.

Set in 1930s France, the politics of the day play a subtle but key role throughout the story, it is left to the conversations between the characters to give us a sense of the unrest that was being felt as the locals, with memories of a first World War still fresh in their minds consider the possibility of a second. We learn more about Anne as the story of her father, shot dead for mutiny in World War One unfolds and the subsequent suicide of her mother, a victim of gossip and harassment. Did we need a lengthy description of her past to feel any more sympathetic? Personally, it fell long-winded for a love affair that ended as abruptly as the story and Faulks left me unmoved. It was clearly his intention to write a story which was as bleak as the period he set it in, how could anything blossom in the midst of a war seems to be the prevailing question of the book and in that regards Faulks succeeds.

 

 

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