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Very Long Engagement [Paperback]

Sebastien Japrisot
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
RRP: £8.99
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Book Description

5 Jun 2003

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...

After the war Mathilde, the fiancée of one of the men, receives a letter which hints at what might have happened, and she sets off to discover the fate of her beloved amid the carnage of battlefield. Her quest becomes an unusual and engrossing thriller as she discovers an increasing number of people trying to put her off the scent.

A Very Long Engagement is a suspenseful thriller and one which transforms a personal tragedy into the epitome of all wartime atrocities. The dénouement, when it finally happens, is moving and horribly convincing.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; New Ed edition (5 Jun 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0099449293
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099449294
  • Product Dimensions: 13.2 x 19.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 31,896 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


"The narrative is brilliantly complex and beguiling, and the climax devastating" (Independent)

"Clever, highly readable. Neither predictable nor surprising, the dénouement, when it finally happens, is shocking, moving and horribly convincing" (Literary Review)

"A classic of its kind, brewing up enormous pathos undiluted by sentimentality" (Daily Telegraph)

"A fierce, elliptical novel that's both a gripping philosophical thriller and a highly moving meditation on the emotion consequences of war" (New York Times)

"Only the best historical fiction can make the journey into a distant time and return with a believable sense of how things really were. That Japrisot's book has done so is a mark of his great talent and experience as a writer" (Washington Post)

Book Description

'Diabolically clever... The reader is alternately impressed, beguiled, frightened, bewildered... A considerable achievement' Anita Brookner

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Magnifique! 11 Feb 2005
Having read the book and seen the film, I can see how the detective story connection to previous novels by Sebastien Japrisot is made. This one is light years away from the others though in both style and subject matter. I would endorse everything I've read in other reviews about the way the story deals with such powerful issues as war, loss, betrayal, and redemption while at the same time charting an epic love story without the slightest hint of sentimentality. The film is a flawless adaptation of the book.
I think we sometimes underestimate the devastating impact of the Great War on the whole French nation for decades afterwards. We point to the Second World War and their so-called surrender, without understanding how the loss of almost a whole generation of young men only some 20 years or so before could still weigh so heavily on them. This book explores these themes in an accessible way through the medium of a love story.
I would also strongly recommend "Fields of Glory" by Jean Rouaud for a similar powerful evocation of this period in history. It may be getting on for a hundred years ago now, but we still see these same horrors of war in the 21st century.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
War is not glorious. Especially if you're Manech, a 20-year old French soldier convicted by a military court, along with four others, of committing self-mutilation with the intent of escaping service in the front lines of World War I. The punishment is grotesque. Rather than death by a firing squad, the five are to be thrust, hands bound, over the wire fronting the most forward trench and into the No Man's Land between the French and German positions - there to die by whatever bullet, mortar shell, or bomb strikes them down. The subsequent deaths of all five are attested to. Letters are sent to surviving family members by the French authorities saying their boys "died in battle". This was in 1917.
Mathilde was Manech's fiancée when he marched off to battle. She's also confined to a wheelchair, unable to walk since she fell off a stepladder at age 3. In 1919, she's contacted by a dying survivor of the war, ex-Sergeant Esperanza, who'd been in charge of the provost detail assigned to escort the five condemned men to the front trench, as well as act as censor for the last letter each was permitted to write home. He tells Mathilde of their bizarre fate, and gives her copies of their last letters, transcribed by him personally. Using these copies and the veteran's story to provide clues, Mathilde embarks on a multi-year search for the truth behind Manech's death. Interviewing friends, family members, and lovers of Marech's four condemned companions, as well as other soldiers present in the trench, Mathilde needs to answer the question, "Is he truly dead?" She has doubts. The evidence is inconsistent.
A VERY LONG ENGAGEMENT is an odyssey of mystery, official cover-ups, lies, misperceptions, secrets, coincidence, tenuous clues, guilt, innocence, and honor. And, ultimately, love.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very long and engaging 28 Dec 2005
What would you do, and how far would you go, to bring back the love of your life? That question is at the heart of Sebastien Japrisot's "A Very Long Engagement," a quiet little story about love and war. While the story drags a little at times, the exquisite story of Matti and the love for a man whom she won't believe is dead.

Wheelchair-bound Mathilde grew up with Manech, and as teenagers they fell in love and became engaged. But Manech is killed in action, leaving Matti to dwell on her imaginary adventures. But one day she is contacted by a dying veteran, Daniel Esperanza, who tells her a terrible story -- Manech was one of five men who shot themselves in the hand to avoid fighting. Because of that, they were condemned to death: sent to the front lines with their hands bound.

But Matti doesn't accept it -- she believes that there is chance, even a small one, that Manech survived somehow. She has her friends assist her in searching through mounds of paperwork, and she herself writes to anyone who might be able to help her -- ex-officers, widows, and lovers. And slowly Matti begins to piece together what happened that day -- and why Manech might still be alive.

"A Very Long Engagement" is complex and a bit confusing, but it's also worth the effort. Japrisot takes a simple plot and gives it some extra twists, a few lessons about war and misery -- but at its heart, "Engagement" is just about love and determination. It's difficult not to be stirred by Matti's long quest to find her lover.

Japrisot's complex paper trail is a bit hard to follow, and the novel tends to drag in the middle, which is mostly Matti reading and writing letters. Japrisot seems uncertain where to go at that point.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A moving story. 1 April 2005
By A Customer
This was a well executed book with a moving plot line and sumptuous descriptions. Japrisot makes you feel for Mathilde and you desperately want her to find her fiance. A moving story that I will definitely read again.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Long engagment makes Engaging book 13 April 2003
By Mrs
The long engagement is the best of all Japrisots books.Entirely enthralling and absolutely unputdownable,I got caught up totally in the mystery and the accounts of life in the trenches.I cannot recommend it enough.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Wow!
This is a stunning book - I could hardly put it down! Well well worth a read. A very current topic which the author has treated well both in a modern and yet sympathetic to the... Read more
Published 3 months ago by Mr. N. J. Pettefar
4.0 out of 5 stars Love gets her Deserts in the End
Part anti-war statement, part love story, part mystery.
Mathilde Dounay is a capricious bourgeois girl, who falls in love with Jean Etchevery, known as Manech, a fisherman's... Read more
Published 11 months ago by gerardpeter
4.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful
This is a love story that a man can enjoy - because it's not just about love, it's about honour, friendship, war and its effects on men, and one, plucky, tremendous girl who just... Read more
Published 16 months ago by The Amazon J
5.0 out of 5 stars Operation Dwindling Hope
Sébastien Japrisot, an author, screenwriter and director was was born in Marseille in 1931. "A Very Long Engagement" was first published in France in 1991. Read more
Published on 16 Aug 2012 by Craobh Rua
4.0 out of 5 stars A good read
I saw the French film recently on my TV it was difficult to read the English subtitles, so I ordered the book from Amazon,
a very good read, well written story, the English... Read more
Published on 11 July 2012 by Mac
3.0 out of 5 stars It Was Difficult for Me to Follow All Those Characters
"A Very Long Engagement, "("Un long dimanche de fiançailles,") (1994), by the best-selling French author Sebastien Japrisot, is a dark, dramatic, emotional and romantic mystery of... Read more
Published on 26 April 2011 by Stephanie De Pue
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing book!
Such a good book I have read it twice and will more than likely again soon I got it for my English Literature A Levels, but read it even after then. Good value for money too. Read more
Published on 22 April 2010 by Victoria Adams
5.0 out of 5 stars not too long, though
My latest read from Japrisot, and he does not disappoint. Very detailed clear, engaging story telling, in an area you might think done to death by the politically correct anti-war... Read more
Published on 5 April 2010 by C. Heneghan
4.0 out of 5 stars Moving Tale of Wartime Cruelty and Redemption
This is Sebastien Japrisot's heartfelt novel of the Great War. Five men sentenced for self-harm are executed in trenches of Verdun. Their relatives are told they died in action. Read more
Published on 27 Jun 2009 by Feanor
5.0 out of 5 stars Compelling and absorbing
A magnificent book, the thread of tension runs from first to last page, did he survive? Written in a measured and mature style, the book deals with the horrors of WW1 yet retains... Read more
Published on 10 Mar 2009 by John Woolley
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