A Very Long Engagement: A Novel
|Author:||Sebastien Japrisot, Linda Coverdale|
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.
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
Barnes and Noble
Determined to discover what happened to five wounded soldiers left for dead on a Picardy battlefield in 1917, a young wheelchair-bound Frenchwoman unveils an elaborate web of deception & coincidence, as well as the acts of kindness that co-exist with the acts of war.
Employing the stunning, kinetic visual sense that made his reputation via Delicatessen, City of Lost Children and Amelie, French director Jean-Pierre Jeunet turned Sebastien Japrisot’s compelling World War I novel into the biggest budgeted film ever produced in his home country. To musically season his often downbeat epic, Jeunet again utilizes Lost Children’s composer, Angelo Badalamenti, and the American rises to the occasion with a brooding score that evokes dignified melancholy at every turn. While its shadowy introspection and…
The film is set in France near the end of World War I in the deadly trenches of the Somme, in the gilded Parisien halls of power, and in the modest home of an indomitable provincial girl. It tells the story of this young woman’s relentless, moving and sometimes comic search for her fiancé, who has disappeared. He is one of five French soldiers believed to have been court-martialed under mysterious circumstances and pushed out of an allied trench into an almost-certain death in no-man’s land. What follows is an investigation into the arbitrary nature of secrecy, the absurdity of war, and the enduring passion, intuition and tenacity of the human heart.