Very Long Engagement Paperback – 5 Jun 2003
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"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)
'Diabolically clever... The reader is alternately impressed, beguiled, frightened, bewildered... A considerable achievement' Anita BrooknerSee all Product description
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Top customer reviews
It is not really a war story at all and it's not even a mystery. It's about one crippled woman's determination, and her intelligence and resolve, to find out the truth about a despicable action that cost five men their lives by an action of deceitful and wicked officers of their own side. In doing so she revolves her own torment.
It is extremely well written in simple easy language that belies the complexity of plotting and the intelligence of its construction. It is a beautiful story and one of those rare ones which makes feel better for having read it.
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. But the novel is also a jigsaw puzzle -- the German boots, the color of a young man's eyes, a lost hand, and a packet of old letters are all pieces. And many scenes in it are exceptionally tender and beautifully written. Matti's flashbacks and fantasies are dreamy, and even the real world seems to be a bit hazy. The climactic scene is without a doubt the most beautiful, understated and yet deeply romantic.
Japrisot created a wonderful character in Matti. Despite being stuck in a wheelchair, she doesn't let this hold her back; she lets her mind fly in all sorts of fantasies. Perhaps it's that childlike belief in the unbelievable that lets her hold on to the belief that Manech is alive. And though Manech only appears for a few pages over the whole book, he becomes as strong as presence as Matti is. Japrisot avoids the cliches of young lovers, while convincing readers that what Matti and Manech share is stronger than anything that comes between them.
"A Very Long Engagement" (now a movie starring Audrey Tautou) is an exquisite love story, heartbreaking and uplifting at once. And it will leave readers with a question -- how long would you look for your one true love?
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. Astute and sardonic Mathilde, perhaps because of her affliction, is a take-no-prisoners dynamo of perseverance. No obstacle is too great that it can't be overcome. In the end, she finds ... Truth.
This novel by Sébastien Japrisot is an unusual and unusually intelligent detective story, as well as a look at an almost-forgotten time and place strewn with the wreckage - physical, emotional and psychological - of the War to End All Wars. You'll put it down feeling ... satisfied. I recommend it unreservedly.
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Mathilde Dounay is a capricious bourgeois girl, who falls in love with Jean Etchevery, known as Manech, a fisherman's...Read more
a very good read, well written story, the English...Read more
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