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4.2 out of 5 stars
27
Very Long Engagement
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on 5 April 2010
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 lobby from Liddel Hart to Alan Clark. This is a story of the relict of a soldier sentenced to death for self mutilation in the phase of the first world war when the French army had pretty much lost heart. He was pushed, with 4 similar, into no-man's-land, and five corpses were buried there in the following days. This is the story of the girl who loved one of them, and takes up detective work to find out what actualy happened. She is not facilitated in this search by being mysteriously paraplegic (more mysteriously, from a medical point of view, as it is clear from several passages that she retains full and abundant sensation below the waist), wheelchair bound. She is also a gifted painter, and uses one of her paintings to pay a private detective.
As with Japrisot's others, one thing I love is the insight into the different culture of France and the French, and the way that though this is potentially a bit of a soppy subject, it just isn't written that way.
CH
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on 9 December 2015
The third Sebastien Japrisot novel I have read and yet again I was highly impressed with the late author's compelling ability to weave a fascinating tale. This was a constantly intriguing story of the First World War told from a fresh prospective. A book very worthy of a place amongst World War One literature.
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on 5 May 2014
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 times way.

I am looking for more of his books!
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on 11 July 2012
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 translation from the orignal french novel by Sebastien Japrisot is good.
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on 7 February 2015
This is a wonderful book but needs a bit of perseverance to get into.
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on 14 September 2016
This beautiful story - which has been beautifully translated -- is superb. Its author deserves to have his work far better known in the anglophone world.

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.
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on 25 September 2013
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 son. This cross class romance is slightly unlikely in early 20th century France especially as Mathilde is disabled. But the account of their love is sweetly told.
Manech goes to war in 1916 and never returns. Mathilde is determined to find exactly what happened to him on January 7 1917. The book begins with Manech in the trenches on that day.
Mathilde is even wilful as well as resourceful. Her charm and her detective skills eventually lead her to the truth. It is not really a case of there being a twist in the tale - any kind of explanation for what happened would have raised the reader's eyebrows. The narrative does get complicated, the fate of four other men also having to be unravelled; I had to go back and forth in the book to trace clues.
The strength of the book is the tales of the other men involved and their families, and indeed all the soldiers on whom the incident touches. Japrisot portrays an army embittered and brutalised, and a nation that rejects the supposed glory of the French in World War 1.
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on 14 March 2015
Do not enjoy this
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HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERon 28 December 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. 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?
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on 12 January 2003
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. 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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