Un long dimanche de fiançailles - Prix Interallié 1991

by Sebastien Japrisot

Paperback, 1993



Call number



Gallimard (1993), 373 pages


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 Engagementis a mystery, a love story, and an extraordinary portrait of life in France before and after the War.

User reviews

LibraryThing member Fluffyblue
I really enjoyed this book. I thought it was a delight to read, although it did take me a little while to understand the characters within it - there were so many, which was a little confusing.

The story was fairly easy to follow, although it did dip back and forth a little, but I think it was helped by the fact that I had seen the film fairly recently. I always think it helps to have a picture although I know others prefer to do it the other way around!

The book was well-written, and the main character, Mathilde, was delightful. I kept having to say the names in my head because they were just so fabulous "Bingo Crepuscule", "Celestin Poux", "Kleber Bouquet". Just wonderful!
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LibraryThing member anne07
Great characters. Definitely shows the atrocities and absurdities of war.
LibraryThing member lizzylu
This is one of my favourite books and I have re-read it several times. I have enjoyed all Sebastien Japrisot's books - but this is by far the best. I would recommend it to anyone as it covers all tastes (mystery, romance, war....)
LibraryThing member dickcraig
This was an early book club selection. I think it stayed with me more because of a review I read of it by someone who said "I finished the book, walked around the room a few times, picked the book up again and began to read". I felt the same way.
LibraryThing member bostonbibliophile
Beautiful love story about a tenacious Frenchwoman searching for her missing fiance after World War I. Suspenseful, wonderful story with a great ending. Loved it!
LibraryThing member John
The book blurb describes it as a kind of War and Peace: not. It is not even in the league of Birdsong in terms of its description of the horrors and the intricacies of relationships in WWI. It is an interesting mystery: a woman, Mathilde, is determined to find out what happened to her fiance who was one of five men convicted of self-inflicted wounds (though her fiance, who has lost his mind in the horrors of the war, in fact did not do it), and sentenced, not to the firing squad, but to being thrust out into no-man's-land to be killed by the Germans. But there are hints that one or more of the men may have survived and this sets Mathilde off on a complicated, and very long search for the truth. She has to piece-together fragments of the story told from many different perspectives formed during a time of great confusion and danger. She gradually does so and discovers the truth which includes the fact that the men were pardoned by the President and their sentences commuted to life in prison, but this was deliberately withheld by certain officers, though it is not made clear in the book why they would act in this way. Some good characters, well-drawn, but with not much development to them other than for Mathilde herself, a good plot, and well told, but not a book to sit on the shelf with other classics about WWI.… (more)
LibraryThing member knitbusy
"Once upon a time, there were five French Soldiers who had gone off to war, because that's the way of the world." So begins Sebastien Japrisot's haunting novel which chronicles not only the horrors of war and the endurance of love, but the ways in which World War 1 forever changed the lives of those who were caught up in the conflict.

I have already read this book several times. For some reason, I seem to find myself returning to it every few years. Japrisot's writing is so beautiful and flows so well in translation (the novel was originally written in French) that it makes me want to take language lessons so that I could enjoy his writing in his native language.

The story concerns Mathilde Donnay, an intelligent and strong-willed protagonist who happens to be confined to a wheelchair because of an early childhood injury. Don't let this detail bother you, as it certainly doesn't bother Mathilde. She has far too many fish to fry to let a little thing like partial paralysis get in her way. As a young girl, Mathilde formed a lasting friendship with a boy named Manech, who became her fiancee after their childhood friendship developed into a strong and loving relationship. At the tender age of 19, Manech was sent off to the war, serving as an infantryman on the front of the French lines. Literally driven past the point of endurance by the horrors he has witnessed, Manech arranges for an accommodating soldier in German trench to shoot him in the hand. Manech is sentenced to death for this self-mutilation, along with four other soldiers. Their sentence is to be thrown into no-man's land, the space between the French and German trenches, with no weapons and their hands tied behind their backs. What happened to Manech and his fellow inmates becomes a mystery, one which Mathilde is not willing to let remain unsolved, and spends seven years trying to uncover. In pursuing this mystery she will uncover not only Manech's ultimate fate, but also learn the stories of those who witnessed it.

This is such a beautiful novel, and Mathilde is such a likable character. Each time I read it I find myself furiously turning the pages, hoping for a resolution to lives that were so unfairly interrupted.
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LibraryThing member Cailin
One of my favorite books - and movies too! This book tells the story of Matilde and Maneck in France during WWI. I loved the history, the way Matilde's journey leads her to several other stories, the mystery of Maneck's disappearance and how she puts the clues together to find out what happened to him. Great book!
LibraryThing member cmbohn
Themes: war, love, hope
Setting: WWI and post war France

Five soldiers were convicted of cowardice after shooting themselves in the hand. They are tied up and forced into enemy territory. Later the fiancee of one of the men receives a letter than convinces her to go looking for the truth behind their deaths and she will not stop until she finds out everything.

It is an intriguing idea, but I didn't really like the main character, Mathilde, and I never understood why she had this compulsion to keep asking questions. I didn't find her sympathetic or believable. I wound up skipping a lot of the story, but I made it through to the rather improbable end because I wanted to see what happened.

The stories of the war itself were well written and powerful. But overall, I really can't recommend the book. I kept putting it off, reaching for any other book besides this one. Finally I made myself finish it today, but if it felt like a chore, then it can hardly be worth reading, can it? 2 stars.
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LibraryThing member tloeffler
On January 6, 1917, five young men are led to a trench on the front line at "Bingo Crepuscle" in France, then sent over the embankment into enemy territory. They have been court-martialed and condemned to death for self-mutilation, having shot themselves in the hand. Mathilde Donnay, confined to a wheelchair, is the fiancee of one of the men. When she is called to the bedside of a dying soldier who tells her the story of that day and gives her copies of letters the men have written to their loved ones, she decides to investigate to find out if any of the five survived.
I found the beginning of the book difficult to follow, but once the characters settled down, the investigation was fascinating. Mathilde hires an investigator, sends letters, speaks to anyone who seems to have any information, then puts the pieces together.
The horrors of war, as if we don't already know them, are spelled out explicitly in this story. The more I read about World War I, the more I wonder how anyone could have ever started another war.
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LibraryThing member Kara
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.… (more)
LibraryThing member glade1
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!… (more)
LibraryThing member AuntieClio
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.
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LibraryThing member jonfaith
My friend Ed also suggested this one a few years back. I recall the circumstances of acquiring it more thna the novel itself. It is interesting that the protagonist's disability is much evident in the book than the film adaptation. I suppose Miramax determined that we weren't prepared for Amelie in My Left Foot. That was harsh, wasn't it?… (more)
LibraryThing member hardlyhardy
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.
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Original publication date


Physical description

373 p.; 4.25 inches


2070387364 / 9782070387366


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