The first thing that amazed me: I was half through the book, when the story suddenly came to an end.
For the first time.
It was a harsh ending and, fortunately, the narrator apologized for it in the following chapter. Although two further endings followed, and regardless of this unusual amount of endings in a novel to choose from, none of them left me satisfied.
"The French Lieutenant's Woman" by John Fowles is set in Victorian England, where the engaged gentleman Charles meets Sarah, a beautiful woman who was dishonored (was she really?) by a French lieutenant (really?) who promised to marry her, but never returned from France to actually do so. Still, Sarah keeps waiting for him (is she waiting at all?), spending her days staring out to the sea (why?).
Due to her solitude and melancholy Charles starts to feel more and more compassion and sympathy for her and his fascination finally shifts to love. The story represents all stiff conventions of the Victorian Age, especially the repression of all carnal and sexual desires, fantasies and actions.
Basically, Charles is struggling the whole time to understand Sarah's story, motives, intentions, actions and reactions - and so was I. This woman at first seems to have a very distinct character, but changes her mind or does something absolutely contradictory to her hitherto character, as soon as you turn the page. Throughout the book I sometimes thought her fate to be common, tragic, sad or even funny, herself melancholic, sadistic, intelligent, loving, sad, naive, cruel, suicidal or simply insane.
I have to admit, that I have no idea, what she wanted. Never, not in any moment of the book could I tell you what her intentions were. She could have had everything she wanted - a romance with Charles, an honorable and well paid job, a happy life, a sad life, she could have just left the village in which everyone mocked her, yet she strove for all those things on one hand, but did not on the other.
The French Lieutenant's Woman is a very innovative and highly entertaining novel in terms of narration technique and story. Many times I just couldn't put the book down, I just had to read the next chapters, but soon I got tired of Sarah's contradictory behavior and there are so many questions concerning motives of action that are not answered. Therefore, 3/5 stars.