I really enjoyed this book. So much, in fact, that my reading of it was actually a very short engagement. I picked it up one recent rainy afternoon without very high expectations and ended up reading the entire thing in one sitting. I haven’t done that in a while. Written by Sebastien Japrisot and published in 1991, it’s an intricate mystery, a war story, and a romance all in one.
I love reading books that really tie you up with a character so that your experience of discovery mirrors theirs, and A Very Long Engagement does just that. As Mathilde tries to find out what exactly what happened to her beloved who was killed in the war, hers and the reader’s knowledge and picture of what happened expands and changes and changes again together. I really got swept up into Mathilde’s quest as she hunts down every possible source of information. Like her, I was desperately trying to piece each fragment of a clue into the jigsaw puzzle, trying figure out which characters saw what at what time, which are telling half truths, and just what exactly happened.
I also really like books that play around with the idea of narrative and storytelling, and I thought A Very Long Engagement succeeded here too. Mathilde and the reader both start out with one story of what happened to her fiance Manech, but each new clue and character interrupts that story with extra details and discrepancies, creating a web of stories and memories that by turns cloud and clear up Manech’s story. Running parallel to the unfolding story of Manech’s war experiences is the powerful love story of the present — Mathilde’s enduring love for her childhood friend who left for the war years ago.
P.S. The book also inspired a film with Audrey Tautou.