This is the third in Frederik Nath’s trilogy of novels taking place in France during World War II. I received it from The Bookplex for review. I recently read the previous volume, Farewell Bergerac and liked it very much. I also liked Francesca Pascal, but I have to say that I didn’t find it quite as satisfying a read as I’d hoped.
In Nath’s author’s note that is appended to this novel, he wonders if he’s portrayed Francesca Pascal believably since he’s never previously written from a woman’s perspective. He has no need to worry on that score. She was both credible and appealing as a mother, an independent woman and an artist. I admired her courage. Participation in combat is not the only mark of courage. Sometimes courage is the ability to endure. Endurance involves always remembering who you are. Francesca Pascal maintained her sense of identity in the forefront of her mind no matter what happened.
Although I believed in Francesca as an artist, her obsession with the painting “Paysage Le Mur Rose” by Matisse is a total mystery to me. I thought I might get a handle on her conviction that it represents France if I looked at it online, but I still have no clue. Such ideas are very subjective, of course. I personally find certain paintings of the French countryside by Van Gogh more emblematic. I wish that Nath could have expanded on exactly what it was about “Paysage Le Mur Rose” that meant so much to Francesca. It would have given me more insight into her character.
The portrayal of Francesca’s gay friend, Charles, was a disappointment to me. He seemed to have so much potential at the beginning of the book, but over the course of the narrative he disintegrated into stereotype. Stereotypes have a basis. People do behave stereotypically in real life, but in fiction stereotypes aren’t very interesting to me because they are a predictable element. I imagine that the reason for taking the character of Charles in such an obvious direction was to provide Francesca with a dramatic inner conflict. Yet I think that Nath had an opportunity to do something innovative with Charles, and he threw that chance away. If Nath had chosen to develop Charles differently, he could have had his own storyline focused on his perspective. I realize that this would have required a completely different structure for this book, but I think it would have been more memorable.
To find out more about "Paysage Le Mur Rose", see Wikipedia on Paysage Le Mur Rose where you can take a look at the painting and read about what is known of its actual history.