During the First World War five French soldiers, accused of a cowardly attempt to evade duty, are bundled into no-man's land and certain death. Five bodies are later recovered, the families are notified that the men died in the line of duty and the whole, distasteful incident appears closed. After the war the fiance of one of the men receives a letter which hints at what might have happened. Mathilde Donnay determines to discover the fate of her beloved amid the carnage of battle. "A Very Long Engagement" turns into an unusual and engrossing thriller as she discovers an increasing number of people trying to put her off the scent. Japrisot's achievement is to have written a novel that is both a suspenseful thriller and one which transforms a single small incident into the epitome of all wartime atrocities. The denouement, when it finally happens, is moving and horribly convincing.
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January 1917: five French soldiers are marched to their own front lines where they will be tossed out into no man's land with their hands tied behind their backs and left for the Germans to shoot. They were, in civilian life, variously a pimp, a mechanic, a farmer, a carpenter, and a fisherman; now they are condemned because each had sought to leave the war by shooting himself in the hand. Taken to a godforsaken trench nicknamed Bingo Crépuscule, the five are reluctantly sent out into the darkness; days later, five bodies are recovered and the families are notified, merely, that the men died in the line of duty.
August 1919: Mathilde Donnay receives a letter from a dying man. In it, the former soldier tells her that he met her beloved fiancé, the fisherman Manech, shortly before he died. Mathilde goes to meet Sergeant Daniel Esperanza at his hospital and there hears the story of the execution. She also receives a package with a photograph of the men and copies of their last letters. As Mathilde reads and rereads the letters and goes over Esperanza's tale, she begins to suspect that perhaps the story didn't end quite so neatly. And so begins her very long investigation into the mysterious circumstances surrounding the deaths of five condemned prisoners--one of whom, at least, might not really be dead.
In Mathilde Donnay, Sebastien Japrisot has created one of the most compelling and delightful heroines in modern fiction. Though confined to a wheelchair since childhood, "Mathilde has other lives, varied and quite beautiful ones." She paints, cares for her pets, enjoys a rich fantasy life, and is relentless in her search for the truth about Manech's death. But she is by no means the only vibrant personality leaping off Japrisot's pages. This author has a remarkable ability to draw even minor characters in three dimensions with economy and wit. Take Mathilde's mother, for instance, caught in mid-card game: "At bridge, manille, bezique, Mama is a dirty rotten swine. Not only is she an ace with the pasteboards, but she throws her opponents off their mettle by insulting or making fun of them." And even the characters we meet only through other people's memories--the condemned men--are so fully realized that you find yourself torn over which one you hope may have survived. As Mathilde comes ever closer to solving the mystery of what happened at Bingo Crépuscule that January morning in 1917, Sebastien Japrisot proves himself a master storyteller and A Very Long Engagement a near perfect novel. --Alix WilberAbout the Author:
Sebastien Japrisot was born in Marseille, France in 1931. He had published his first novel, Les Mal Partis when he was only 17. He has translated the works of J. D. Salinger and pursued a successful career in advertising and publicity. He has been a scriptwriter and the director of two films. His first crime novel, The 10:30 from Marseille, was received with great acclaim. His reputation as a master for crime fiction has grown with the publication of The Lady in the Car with Glasses and a Gun, A Trap for Cinderella and Rider on the Rain. His novel One Deadly Summer was made into a film starring Isabelle Adjani. A Very Long Engagement was an international bestseller and won the Prix Interallie.
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Book Description Vintage, 2005. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Bookseller Inventory # P110099474549