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Women in evidence is a case in point. This is a novel of enormous complexity. At heart it is about loves as obsession-irrational, lustful, confining, explosive obsession. All of these facets of love as obsession are explored through a series of vignettes concerning-presumably, though one is never really certain-one man's relationships with a series of women as related by the women.
We know that what is about to transpire will be highly charged and volatile as we met this fellow at to opening of the novel. He is running along a beach, bleeding profusely from a gun shot wound. Fallen on the beach, he reflects on his situation and how he got there-leading us into the stories that follow.
Although all relatively short, the stories themselves are highly charged, compelling, consuming and sufficiently detailed and well constructed as to seems to be stand alone tales unrelated to one another-yet, there runs throughout the series tantalizing tidbits that seem to tie them all together as fragments of the same man's history. But are they? And if so, which one explains his extreme situation on the beach?
This is one of the most original and complex novels I've ever read. I was completely absorbed and beguiled by it from cover to cover. Like Japrisot's other best works, reading Women in Evidence is physically and intellectually demanding experience, well worth the time and effort for those willing to take the plunge.
Dive in and revel in the mystery.
(In the interests of full disclosure, for those who think the title of this review seems familiar, it is a quote by Churchill. Once, when asked to explain Russia, he replied "One cannot. Russia is a riddle wrapped in a mystery wrapped in an enigma".)
The story is told by 7 different narrators, all women with irresistible obsessions for him, each knows him by a different name & identity. Each writes a testimony of her experiences with "the man on the beach" at the behest of his lawyer, Marie-Martine Lepage, herself the 8th & final narrator in the book and also yet another lover from his past. The women's stories seem to contradict each other - Emma , Belinda, Zozo, Caroline, Frou-Frou, Yoko, Toledo, Marie-Martine give varied accounts of the same man, some wanting to save him, others to kill him. The reader is left to pass judgement on the character of Christophe (or whoever) as he escapes from prison and kidnaps a young bride on her wedding night then is shot on the beach for rejecting her, hidden in a brothel by prostitutes, escapes by sea with an actress after punishing a schoolteacher, shipwrecked on a desert island, recovers in an army hospital, captured & returned to France to face his original crimes of rape & murder. All along, he claims to have been falsely accused of the crimes he was charged with.
The ending was a surprise and very appropriate.
Chapter break to a desposition from a woman who tells us what she knows about this man. He's an escaped convict and her lover. Chapter break to another deposition: he wasn't the first woman's lover; he barely knew the first woman; he is this woman's lover. And so on.
Japrisot does an excellent job of weaving the story and giving you just enough information to form the story in your mind of what really happened.
Excellent read (as is A Very Long Engagement, also by Japrisot). Well worth the price.
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Full of the charismatic characters and complex plot development so characteristic of Japrisot.
If you are tired of the same formulaic kitsch that seems to dominate the mystery reading lists in the US, then you definitely will want to give Japrisot a try.
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I guess I find myself comparing it to books like ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT and A FAREWELL TO ARMS, which is, of course, grossly unfair. For one thing, it could reasonably be argued that those books are among the best written in the twentieth century, and how fair is it to judge every new novel on its ability to measure up favorably to such a standard? Secondly, although ENGAGEMENT is about the First World War, it is more accurately read as mystery/love story.
My favorite thing about this novel is the way in which Japrisot offers the reader an opportunity to form quick intitial judgements about many of the characters, and then slowly provides the reader a deeper understanding of these individuals and their motives as the book progresses. I found that, by the end of the book, I liked almost everyone involved in this story. Perhaps not a "great" book, but certainly a very good one - and a damned sight better than most of what has proven to be publishable/marketable over the last fifteen to twenty years.
This is a love story and an intriguing mystery as well as an indictment of the carnage of WWI. And in the midst of the climax of the story, the author gives further detail to a minor character (Mathilde's mother cancelling the cheese course) that had me laughing out loud. How did he know that I needed a break in the tension?
This is a well told story that had me enthralled from beginning to end, deepened my definition of love, taught me more about WWI (Pat Barker's trilogy is fabulous for this also, and just as fascinating) and caused me to appreciate again the privilege of reading great literature and all the benefits truly great books bring to life.
A must read.
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For a delightly, fun and casual read, I recommend the book.
But the title is "The Sleeping-Car Murders": more than one. And indeed, the other passengers of car number 4 begin to die, violently and seemingly at random.
Underlying these deaths, though, are the corrupt, evil, and stupid motives of greed and ego. By the final pages, we realise that the incidents are not random--yet even then the denoument is darkly surprising.
Japrisot is a master writer. His prose is spare and evocative. He is able to create memorable characters and dark suspense in less than two hundred pages. He sweeps us up into a mystery which is intricate and twisted, and he leaves us shocked and saddened by the evil of human kind.
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