The World at Night by Alan Furst

The World at Night
ISBN 0002252295
  • Author:
    Alan Furst
  • Title:
    The World at Night
  • Category:
  • Subcategory:
    Genre Fiction
  • ISBN13:
  • Publisher:
    HARPERCOLLINS; paperback / softback edition (1997)
  • Pages:
  • Size PDF version
    1171 kb
  • Size FB2 version
    1345 kb
  • Size EPUB version
    1401 kb
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1st large edition paperback, fine In stock shipped from our UK warehouse

In the Paris of 1940, Jean Casson is a French motion-picture producer with a relatively prosperous life. He has made some decent films, he has work coming in, he is well-liked by the ladies of the city, and he has a steady circle of upper middle class friends. When the Nazis invade Belgium, it is, of course, the talk of the entire nation, but the French are confident that, having been victorious over Germany in 1918, they will blacken Hitler's eye if he pivots toward France.

The sheer speed and efficiency of the invading German forces, however, quickly puts the lie to that notion, and France surrenders with barely a whimper, divided into an occupied territory and the Zone Non-Occupee (ZNO) - Vichy France, under the control of the puppet, Marshall Pétain. Like every other Parisian, Casson struggles to adjust to his new reality, convinced that the invaders are simply one more thing with which they must cope.

And it against this backdrop that the reader is introduced to life under foreign military occupation: the bureaucracy, the monitoring, the rationing, the sudden loss of status, and the struggle to lead something close to a normal existence. Casson at first tries to continue his life and career as if nothing had happened - shopping a script for a new film and pursuing the beauiful Citrine, perhaps the only woman he has ever truly loved - but the fatalistic idea that life will simply go on gradually becomes impossible, and Casson must choose between submission or resistance.

"The World at Night" is the fourth volume in Alan Furst's loosely connected tales of espionage in World War II, and it marks a bit of departure from the previous books. Focusing on an ordinary citizen rather than intelligence operatives or soldiers, the story instead shows us a different kind of wartime experience - one that will be more familiar to most readers, and therefore, in some ways, more impactful. It is a story not of glory or heroics, but of adaptation, determination, tragedy and small victories often rooted as much in chance and survival instinct as in forethought and bravery.

"The World at Night" is not at the same elite level of literature as Furst's "Night Soldiers" or "The Polish Officer," but that's an incredibly difficult level of achievement to maintain, and it is nonetheless a compelling work. As the author continues to paint a picture that spans a universe of experiences during the second world war, the story of Jean Casson is a worthy addition.
This, the 4th book in the series, does not live up to the levels of the first 3. The story just isn't as good, and didn't leave me with anticipation as the others did. What I mean by that, is that when I finished a chapter or came to a point where I could stop for a while in the first 3 books, I would think of what situation the character was in and how he would proceed during the day(s) when I wasn't reading it. That didn't happen with The World at Night. And, to add a Spoiler Alert, the next book in the series is just a continuation of the 4th book, and I felt insulted by this. Just as when a movie producer decides to make TWO movies out of ONE book (Part 1 and Part 2) just to maximize the profit, Furst produced 2 books but could easily have released one long book. He chose to release a 324 page book (this one), followed by a "Part 2" book (Red Gold) of 272 pages. Considering the first book, Night Soldiers, was a robust 519 pages, I have to call him out on this money-grab. A good story, but not great. I'll take an extra star off my review of Red Gold for this, for sure.
It’s May 1940 as Hitler’s forces are about to invade France. Film producer Jean-Claude Casson is in need of money and a script to make his next movie but both are in short supply. There is a pervading gloom around Paris but, as Casson observes, one must survive. Children would be born, bakers would make bread, lovers would make love, dinner parties would be given, and, in that way, France would go on being France.
The situation becomes even worse when the Germans easily defeat France and occupy Paris. Furst is a master in describing the suffocation which the French feel and the compromises they must make just to live a simple life. Even the idealistic Casson is recruited to take part in a British secret service operation but soon discovers it’s a lot harder and more dangerous than it was ever portrayed on the silver screen.
Furst builds tension quite slowly, giving the reader realistic details of how it must have been during that dark period of France’s history. Casson walks a narrow and dangerous path trying to elude German spies but they are meticulous record keepers and seem to have more than enough manpower to investigate everyone in all possible locales. To make matters even worse, Casson is kept from being with the actress Citrine, the love of his life.
The book’s ending seemed ambiguous, one which Furst might have written in such a way to allow the reader to arrive at his or her own conclusion.
Vital Beast
First, a general comment on Furst's WW2 era novels. This is the sixth Furst novel I've read. I have loved reading WW2 history for most of my 60 years but the emotional connection to the time and events always seemed distant, elusive, just out of reach. Furst's novels (and Pillip Kerr's 'Bernie Gunter' novels, too) have finally let me 'live in the moment' more than any experience I've had through any other medium, like movies, or TV, no matter how well made they are. Furst conveys the culture, the fashions, the very atmosphere (literally, weather, temperature, sky), sounds and smells of this world of Europe on the brink of war. His characters become real because the gives them context, motivations, character and abilities that make them believable within their times and places. You can actually learn the geography, climate and character and cultural quirks of major European cities, particularly the Paris of this era. These books are literally paper time machines.
This novel is a typically good evocation of Paris as the Battle of France happens and its aftermath. The ending is not satisfactory, as others have pointed out and you should read the sequel, Red Gold to tie it up. Still, if you ever wondered what it was like for the French living in occupied France, this is as close as you will get to feeling it.