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A very long engagement by Sébastien…

A very long engagement (original 1991; edition 1991)

by Sébastien Japrisot

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1,264236,249 (3.94)96
Title:A very long engagement
Authors:Sébastien Japrisot
Info:New York : Picador, 2004, c1991.
Collections:Your library
Tags:2012, fiction, historical, europe, france, war, world war i, 1910s, 1920s

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A Very Long Engagement by Sébastien Japrisot (1991)


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English (19)  French (2)  Catalan (1)  Dutch (1)  All languages (23)
Showing 1-5 of 19 (next | show all)
Sebastian Japrisot's novel "A Very Long Engagement," first published in France in 1991 as "Un long divan he de fiancailles," manages to be an unconventional love story, an unconventional war story and an unconventional detective story all at the same time. It succeeds admirably as all three.

As a love story it is unconventional because the two lovers, except in flashbacks, do not come together until the end of the story. The story takes place soon after the close of the Great War, so the war, too, is described in letters and reminiscences and letters. The detective story is unconventional because the detective is a young woman, Mathilde Donnay, who was told her fiancé, Manech, died in the war. She has never believed that, so now, the war over, she begins to investigate what really happened in the French trench known as Bingo Crepuscule.

It seems Manech, whom she has loved since childhood, was one of five men condemned to die for self-mutilation. Instead of facing a firing squad, however, they were forced into No Man's Land between the French and German armies. All five are reported dead, their bodies recovered and buried. Still Mathilde maintains hope and hunts down survivors from the trench to try to keep that hope alive. That she was crippled in a childhood accident and confined to a wheelchair perhaps leads her not to easily give up on the one man who loved her, as well as giving her the time to write all those letters and to dig out the truth in all the different versions she hears.

I watched, for maybe the sixth time, the Jean-Pierre Jeunet film based on the novel on the same day I finished the book. He changed a few minor details. Mathilde had polio and can still walk in the movie. She is an orphan in the film, not in the novel. She speaks with the character Tina Lombardi in the movie, not in the book. Still Jeunet stays amazingly true to the story and, in my view, improves on it. ( )
  hardlyhardy | Aug 14, 2015 |
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 |
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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» Add other authors (13 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Sébastien Japrisotprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Coverdale, LindaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Keating, IsabelNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Metsch, FritzDesignersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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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 Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:22:05 -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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