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A Very Long Engagement by Sébastien…

A Very Long Engagement (1991)

by Sébastien Japrisot

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Showing 1-5 of 19 (next | show all)
Although ultimately a fairly depressing subject, it was a fairly compelling book. I wasn't sure if I liked it but I'm glad I read it and I found it hard to put down. The only big failing was I found the Mathilde character very unlikable and I think that was not the goal.
  amyem58 | Jul 3, 2014 |
A Very Long Engagement is a sweet, poignant story set in post-World War I France, in which Mathilde sets out to solve the mystery of whether her fiance was truly killed in disgrace on the front.

Japrisot's writing is stirring and sweet, telling the story of a stubborn Mathilde who will not give up until she has found out what happened to five French soldiers executed for maiming themselves. At no point did I ever think Mathilde should give up or think badly of her for her stubbornness. All the characters in this book are written with sympathy, even the ones who are not such great people.

A Very Long Engagement reminded me very much of A Novel Bookstore by Laurence Cosse, another french novel I enjoyed very much. ( )
  AuntieClio | Nov 16, 2013 |
Another 3.5 star. I quite liked this book, but it was a bit difficult for me to get into. (And I thought the translation from the original French) was VERY good, so it wasn't that.) I only had a few days to read it, because it was an interlibrary loan, and it was coming up due, so I had to will myself to keep going... I was like, "Okay, Sara. Just read one chapter, then you can go do something else." But about 100 pages in, it picked up, and then it wasn't difficult to finish.

So it is about this woman (Mathilde) whose fiancé fought in WWI in France, and was declared to have died in action. Except that she sensed there was something fishy going on with his situation, and wasn't convinced he was really dead. And turns out there WAS a fishy situation! He and 4 other soldiers had shot themselves in the hand ("self-mutilation"), which was considered a dishonorable way to try and get out of the war, were court-marshaled, and sentenced to death. So instead of just shooting these guys, the other officers stuck them in-between the French and German forces in "No-Man's Land" and essentially just let them get taken out during the fighting.

But there was more fishy stuff after that. Mathilde goes around France talking to people and writing letters and investigating what happened to these 5 soldiers, trying to really REALLY verify that her fiancé is dead. Is he dead? Isn't he dead? You won't find out until the VERY end. And by that point, you'll be DYING to know!

But the ending was a bit... abrupt for me. I wish there had been a bit more... But it was good. ( )
  saraferrell | Apr 3, 2013 |
Very good book! A little mystery, a little romance, a little war... Mathilde suspects her fiance survived the war, although the government has told her he was killed in action. As she interviews and corresponds with various witnesses, she gathers pieces of the puzzle of what happened to her Manech. It is a complex and sad story but very satisfying. Recommended! ( )
  glade1 | Sep 11, 2012 |
Maybe something's missing from the translation, but I couldn't say this story was beautifully told. It was, however, good enough that I needed to finish it to read what happened (which is funny because I've seen the movie and already knew).

The difficult thing is that all of the characters have nicknames, and they call each other by different nicknames. This made the whole telling difficult to follow and quite a lot of work. I don't mind having to work to read a book, but if I do, it should be more satisfying than this one was. ( )
  Kara | Feb 26, 2012 |
Showing 1-5 of 19 (next | show all)
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One upon a time, there were five French soldiers who had gone off to war, because that's the way of the world.
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Original title, Un long dimanche de fiançailles
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Book description
Set during and after the First World War, A Very Long Engagement tells the story of a young woman's search for her fiancé, whom she believes might still be alive despite having officially been reported as "killed in the line of duty." Unable to walk since childhood, fearless Mathilde Donnay is undeterred in her quest as she scours the country for information about five wounded French soldiers who were brutally abandoned by their own troops. A Very Long Engagement is a mystery, a love story, and an extraordinary portrait of life in France before and after the War.


In January 1917, five wounded French soldiers, their hands bound behind them, are brought to the front at Picardy by their own troops, forced into no-man's land between the French and German armies, and left to die in the cross fire. Their brutal punishment has been hushed up for more than two years when Mathilde Donnay, unable to walk since childhood, begins a relentless quest to find out whether her fiancé, officially "killed in the line of duty," might still be alive.

Tipped off by a letter from a dying soldier, the shrewd, sardonic, and wonderfully imaginative Mathilde scours the country for information about the men. As she carries her search to its end, an elaborate web of deception and coincidence emerges, and Mathilde comes to an understanding of the horrors, and the acts of kindness, brought about by the war.

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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0312424582, Paperback)

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 Wilber

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:57:17 -0400)

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After a court martial in January 1917, five Frenchmen convicted of self-mutilation (in order to avoid combat in WW I) are dragged along the network of zigzagging trenches to the improbably named frontline trench, "Bingo Crepuscule." What exactly happened in Bingo is as labyrinthine as the trenches themselves, but Mathilde Donnay, the fiancee of one of the soldiers, is a determined young woman whose wheelchair is unable to contain her fiercely independent and willful spirit. Aided by an indulgent, well-to-do father, a generous private investigator, soldiers who survived the conflict and the families of those who didn't, Mathilde begins the long and spotty process of re-creating events.… (more)

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