Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Alice's Review: The Girl in the Blue Beret

Summary:  Inspired by a true story, the bestselling author of In Country offers a gorgeous, haunting novel about an airline pilot coming to terms with his past, and searching for the people who saved him during World War II. After Marshall Stone's B-17 bomber was shot down in occupied Europe in 1944, people in the French Resistance helped him escape to safety. One of the brave French people who risked their lives for him was a lively girl in Paris—a girl identified by her blue beret. After the war Marshall returned to America, raised a family, and became a successful airline pilot. He tried to forget the war. Now, in 1980, he returns to France and finds himself drawn back in time—memories of the crash, the terror of being alone in a foreign country where German soldiers were hunting down fallen Allied aviators, the long months of hiding. Marshall finds the people who helped him escape from the Nazis and falls in love with the woman who was the girl in the blue beret. He also discovers astonishing revelations about the suffering of the people he had known during the war. Bobbie Ann Mason's novel, inspired by her father-in-law's wartime experiences, is a beautifully woven story of love, war, and second chances.

Review:  This is the first novel I read in this year’s List Swap Challenge. Since I failed so miserable at last year’s challenge, I am determined to succeed this year. Something I really like about this challenge is Julie usually picks books that are well outside my reading comfort zone. I am not a thriller reader. I like my drama to come in the form of woman with woe is me syndrome. I have to admit, I was over the moon when Julie chose this one for me. I am a huge fan of novels based during World War II. I couldn’t wait to dive into it and chose it as my first read in the challenge.

I was optimistic for The Girl in the Blue Beret. This novel is on an interesting subject I knew nothing about. I really had no idea what the French people went through and what sacrifices they made in order to help the Allied Airmen return safely to England. I admired the courage and strength of the Resistance. With such great risk, they hid, fed, and moved these Airmen to safety. For anyone interested in learning more about the Escape, Invasion, and the Resistance, Ms. Mason listed several books in her Selected Bibliography.

When I finished this novel, the first thing I thought was, “What a letdown.” That is not the sign of a good novel. Up until then I had a like/indifferent feeling about The Girl in the Blue Beret. I believe I was indifferent because although Marshall’s journey and his relationship with members of the Resistance were fascinating, I didn’t feel a kinship to Marshall at all. He seemed unfeeling, distant, almost egotistical. I didn’t get the feeling that he experienced the escape from Germany occupied France himself, but rather that he was relaying someone else’s journey. Even when he discussing his flight crew, I felt less than sympathetic to him. Marshall returns to Paris after his retirement to reconnect and thank the people who helped him escape. He was particularly fond of a Parisian family with two young daughters. Marshall formed a bond with Annette, the oldest and the one in the blue beret.

On his return to Paris, Marshall located Annette who was living life in the country as a widow. Marshall and Annette had an instant link, a bond based on grief, respect and appreciation. I think their connection wasn’t magical or amazing in any way. There was an element of creepiness in the way Marshall still thought of Annette as the girl in Paris in 1944. Even as his adult relationship with her grew, I couldn’t shake thinking of him as a dirty old man. I have a feeling that Annette being Annette would have acted the same way towards any of the other Airmen who stopped by for an unexpected visit. I know that doesn’t sound right, she wasn’t a loose woman or careless with her feelings. In fact, she was the opposite. She was centered, real. She guarded her experiences and because of those, she enjoyed every moment of every day she faced.

The shining star of the novel, the shift from indifference to like was when I met Annette as an adult woman. She was breathtaking. She had a joie de vie that was contagious. She was truly inspirational, spirited, and courageous. She drew me in and even as a fictional character, I was honored to know her, and spend time with her.

Above all, I found this novel missed the one thing that would have made it a 4, even a 5 in my book. It was missing heart. The girl in the blue beret had it, but sadly the protagonist did not.

Final Take: 3/5

Read Julie's Review



Mrs Q Book Addict February 16, 2012 at 9:39 AM  

This one is new to me, but it sounds like one that I would really enjoy. I'll have to add this one to my wishlist.

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