Sebastien Japrisot | Critical Review by Anita Brookner

This literature criticism consists of approximately 2 pages of analysis & critique of Sebastien Japrisot.
This section contains 478 words
(approx. 2 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Anita Brookner

Critical Review by Anita Brookner

SOURCE: A review of Un Long Dimanche de Fiançailles in The Spectator, Vol. 267, No. 8528, December 21-28, 1991, p. 80.

Brookner is an English novelist, nonfiction writer, critic, and art historian whose books include Jacques-Louis David (1981) and the prizewinning novel Hotel du lac (1984). In the following excerpt, she focuses on the "clever" plot and the clear "narrative tone" of Un Long Dimanche de Fiançailles.

Japrisot is the author of those two classic mysteries, L'Eté Meurtrier and La Dame dans l'auto avec des Lunettes et un Fusil. Here [in Un Long Dimanche de Fiançailles] he tackles more dangerous subject matter. In January 1917 five French soldiers, drafted to the front line, shot themselves in the hand in order to escape the fighting. They were arrested, roped together, marched a certain distance, and then released into no man's land, where they would presumably be shot by the enemy. And so they were, or so it seemed. All were known by nicknames, some may have exchanged their identity numbers, one had stolen a pair of German boots. Back in France a crippled girl called Mathilde Donnay awaits the return of her fiancé, one of the five, whom she knows by another, local name. One day she receives a letter from a nun working in a hospital near Dax, which informs her that a dying man wishes to see her. This man commanded the prisoners' escort, but in fact can tell her very little, only that all five are dead. Mathilde then sets up her own enquiry: she is rich, she is patient, and she is very scrupulous.

Her researches lead her up various blind alleys. Gradually she amasses a dossier, makes contact with the wives and mistresses of the deceased. All have reasons of their own for telling or not telling the truth. But in the course of her enquiries she discovers that not one but two of the five survived, and that one of them, if found, will reveal the whereabouts of the other. It is entirely possible that in order to re-enter civilian life the two surviving prisoners have changed their names. One of them, a foundling who had been given an entirely notional name to start with, is tracked down to a farm near Rozay-en-Brie. He tells Mathilde that her fiancé is alive, but of course has a different name. The expectant reader will be relieved to know that he is eventually found: how will not be revealed here.

This is diabolically clever, and Japrisot has the wit to keep his narrative tone simple, or as simple as his plot will allow. The reader is alternately impressed, beguiled, frightened, bewildered, and finally impatient, for the solution is withheld until endurance is almost exhausted. Japrisot is at all times master of his effects, as he has proved himself to be in previous novels. A considerable achievement.

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This section contains 478 words
(approx. 2 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Anita Brookner
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