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A Very Long Engagement by Sebastian Japrisot (plus others!)

  

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  1. 1. What did you think of A Very Long Engagement?

    • 6/6 - A favourite
    • 5/6 - Excellent (unputdownable)
      0
    • 4/6 - Good (hard to put down)
    • 3/6 - Fair enough (but putdownable)
      0
    • 2/6 - Disappointing (an effort to finish)
    • 1/6 - Hated it (a struggle to finish, if at all)
      0
  2. 2. What did you think of A Month in the Country?

    • 6/6 - A favourite
    • 5/6 - Excellent (unputdownable)
    • 4/6 - Good (hard to put down)
      0
    • 3/6 - Fair enough (but putdownable)
    • 2/6 - Disappointing (an effort to finish)
      0
    • 1/6 - Hated it (a struggle to finish, if at all)
      0
  3. 3. What did you think of The Return of the Soldier?

    • 6/6 - A favourite
      0
    • 5/6 - Excellent (unputdownable)
    • 4/6 - Good (hard to put down)
      0
    • 3/6 - Fair enough (but putdownable)
    • 2/6 - Disappointing (an effort to finish)
      0
    • 1/6 - Hated it (a struggle to finish, if at all)
      0


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Welcome to the May 2014 Reading Circle
 
The focus this month is on novels about the personal aftermaths of The Great War: i.e. how World War One affected lives beyond the fighting.
 
Unusually, three novels are included this month.  All those participating are asked to read A Very Long Engagement by Sebastien Japrisot.  Optional others that are included in the discussion questions for comparison are: The Return of the Soldier by Rebecca West, and A Month in the Country by JL Carr
 
It is assumed that you have either read the book(s) before reading posts in this thread or are prepared to accept spoilers for those you might not have read, as the discussion might give away crucial points, and the continuous use of spoiler tags would be likely to hinder fluent reading of posts.
 
 
Questions
Please don't feel you have to answer all the questions, or every part of every question, especially bearing in mind that we will have all read different combinations of books, from just one to all three!
 
1.  In summary, what did you think of the book(s)? 
 
2.  Had you read any of the authors before?  Would you want to read any of them again?
 
3.  Did you have expectations about any of the books beforehand? How did they match up?
 
4.  Different locations (France, London, North Yorkshire), different styles (mystery, humour/elegiac idyll, social drama), very different books.  Which, if any, did you prefer (can you rank them)?  Why?
 
5.  Japrisot's is a view of WW1 from a French point of view.  Did it provide you with a different or fresh perspective on the war compared to what you already knew?  How about the other two books?
 
6.  Did the characterisation in the Japrisot novel work for you?  Any favourite characters?  Any in either of the other two books?
 
7.  All three books feature soldiers damaged by the war, and the effect that has on the people they love, know and meet.  What, if anything, did each have to say that was different from the others?
 
8.  Mathilde is confined to a wheelchair. Was this important?  Does it have any real effect on the story, or on your perception of it or her?
 
9.  Tina Lombardi reacted very differently to Mathilde to the same event.  Did this contrast play any useful part in the story?   
 
10.  Did the conclusion surprise you?  What did you think of it?
 
11.  The conclusions in the other two books are equally important.  What did you think of them?
 
Any other comments or thoughts?

Edited by willoyd

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My thoughts on the three books:

In summary, what did you think of the book(s)? 
Both the Japrisot and the Carr books were absolutely brilliant, totally engaging in very different ways: Japrisot's combination of romance and mystery kept me completely enthralled, not least because I really cared for Mathilde and her relationship with Maneche. Carr's book also contained a mystery, but the focus was more tightly focused on place - this 'small corner' of rural England - the interaction between its inhabitants and the two visitors, and the way the latter's war experiences intrude.  In terms of writing style, Japrisot's felt more detached, which is something I've felt before with quite a number of French writers. Rebecca West's work, whilst an obviously excellent piece of writing, didn't engage me so closely, perhaps because so many of the social and cultural aspects were alien to me. But then, it was the only one of the three books that was written contemporaneously, so maybe this is a result of my modern failings than those of the book.
 
Had you read any of the authors before?  Would you want to read any of them again?
Both the Japrisot and the Carr book were rereads. I've read most of Carr's other novels, but this is the only one of Japrisot's seven novels that I've read. In contrast, this was my first experience of Rebecca West. I will be making some effort to explore all three authors further - they are all outstanding writers on this evidence.
 
Did you have expectations about any of the books beforehand? How did they match up?
Obviously I had the previous readings of the two longer books: they comfortably matched up to my memories in terms of excellence and enjoyment, much to my relief - it's always worrying going back to a previous favourite after a long break! i didn't have any major expectations of The Return of the Soldier, other than knowing that Rebecca West is highly acclaimed - I can see why.
 
Different locations (France, London, North Yorkshire), different styles (mystery, humour/elegiac idyll, social drama), very different books.  Which, if any, did you prefer (can you rank them)?  Why?
JL Carr's novel is perhaps my all-time favourite novel, a perfect balance of all the key elements: sympathetic if somewhat enigmatic characters, perfectly drawn setting both in terms of time and place, brilliant drawing out of the relationships between characters and their interactions with the setting, and a perfectly pitched plot with just the right element of mystery and interest to draw one in. The Japrisot comes a close second, but perhaps marginally misses out more due to the excellence of the Carr novel and its very personal appeal than any failings of its own. The West was a definite third: whilst the characterisation was very well developed, there was a certain emptiness at its heart which failed to completely engage me, whilst I found the actual plot line insufficiently convincing, and the romanticism of the description of Chris's and Margaret's early relationship somewhat cloying - but, again, this is from the perspective of reading it almost one hundred years after writing, so may be unfair.
 
Japrisot's is a view of WW1 from a French point of view.  Did it provide you with a different or fresh perspective on the war compared to what you already knew?  How about the other two books?
I think the fundamental difference is that the war is horribly immediate: this is the country where it was actually fought, whilst both the West and Carr books are physically removed - the war was 'over there'. It is thus not just a war experienced first hand by the soldiers, but by everybody, a fact brought even more closely to home when Mathilde visits the locations. People are thus having to live in the country where it was fought and deal with the consequences, which is probably why there is so much more secrecy and burying of past events - it's all rather too dangerous. Equally, it would have been a lot harder for an English version of this story to have worked out - particularly the way in which characters were able to quietly move location and disappear.
 
Did the characterisation in the Japrisot novel work for you?  Any favourite characters?  Any in either of the other two books?
For me, this was the standout feature of all three novels.  The characters in both the Carr and West books were more intimately developed - there was a coolness to Japrisot's writing that transmitted to the characters, but I found that worked for me, not least because, determined as she was, it seemed to reflect very much Mathilde's character, where she was able to separate out her emotions from her thinking, in spite of the fact that it was her emotions which drove her to do what she did.  Mathilde obviously stands out in AVLE, but the Carr book is so populated with characters I loved, that I'm not going to nominate any.  None really featured for me in TROTS. However, even those I didn't like (e.g. Kitty in The Return and The Revd Keach in A Month), I felt sympathy for, even some empathy perhaps.
 
All three books feature soldiers damaged by the war, and the effect that has on the people they love, know and meet.  What, if anything, did each have to say that was different from the others?
Difficult one this. Other than the fact that the war had such a varied impact on people, that it was very much down to how individuals responded, I'm not sure. Maybe that the stresses of the war certainly seemed to find all the weaknesses. Perhaps what was more revealing was how those left at home responded in such varied ways to the damage created by the war. Perhaps coincidentally, it was interesting to note that perhaps the strongest responses came from those in the weakest positions - Mathilde in her wheelchair, Margaret in her social position and with most to lose from Chris's recovery, the bereaved Ellerbecks.
 
Mathilde is confined to a wheelchair. Was this important?  Does it have any real effect on the story, or on your perception of it or her?
I think its primary role is perhaps to emphasise Mathilde's vulnerability and fragility - or to contrast with her mental strength. Otherwise I'm not certain. Interestingly, in the film she isn't confined to a wheelchair, although does suffer a polio-induced limp.
 
Tina Lombardi reacted very differently to Mathilde to the same event.  Did this contrast play any useful part in the story?
Again, to serve as a contrast? Different women from different backgrounds handling similar situations in very different ways.  Does Tina's anger blind her, whilst Mathilde's quiet persistence is what enables her to solve the mystery? Although, of course, there are different outcomes in terms of what happened to their men (and for themselves!) for the two women.   
 
Did the conclusion surprise you?  What did you think of it?
Yes it did, both times! Obviously, I remembered the outline of what happened from my first reading, and in broad terms it's an either/or result, so whatever the result it's not going to be a total surprise,  but the detail/circumstances definitely caught me out. I had also forgotten, or never really registered, quite what a large timescale we're talking about - some five years after the war before we reach the denouement. I thought the ending superb.
 
The conclusions in the other two books are equally important.  What did you think of them?
Both had a strong streak of sadness in them (as, I suppose, did AVLE), but I can't think how either could have been finished better. Any other finish to AMITC would have destroyed the very isolation of time and place that Carr was trying to create: there's a very strong box drawn round this instance which could only have been punctured to the detriment of everything he was trying to say. Equally, I can't see how else West could have finished her novel without begging all sorts of questions around its authenticity. I particularly admired the way she actually brought it to a conclusion - brilliant last couple of sentences, all lean and no fat.
 
Any other comments or thoughts?
Only to say wow, what a trio of books and writers: I particularly enjoyed reading them all in juxtaposition to each other, being able to compare and contrast: so much in common, so much that is so different. I haven't done justice to them really here, although I hope to get involved in further discussion as the month proceeds, but I do think they'd make a superb set for a reading group to discuss, or a literature class to dissect. Thank you all for the recommendations. I'm really looking forward to reading what others think!

Edited by willoyd

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1.  In summary, what did you think of the book(s)? 

I've only read the first one, A Very Long Engagement, so far, so will limit my answer. 

Although I enjoyed the book, in general, I found that it dragged on a bit in places and was too repetitive.  A certain amount of the repetitiveness would have been effective, but for me at least, it was too much.

I felt the characters only superficially developed.  They were what one would expect, nothing more.

The plucky heroine, the faithful servant, the admonishing family attorney....that sort of thing.

 

2.  Had you read any of the authors before?  Would you want to read any of them again?

I will look for Japrisot's books again, there was more than enough in this one for me to want to try again.
 
3.  Did you have expectations about any of the books beforehand? How did they match up?

I recently read A Long Long Way by Sebastian Barry, and found it quite grueling with it's descriptions of the trench warfare.  It also combined the actual warfare with the effect it was having on various loved ones back home, so I suppose I expected the same sort of intensity that Barry exhibited.  Or even some of the angst and terror of Pat Barker's Regeneration TrilogyI felt none of that with this book

For me there was a certain flatness to the experience of this book.  A detachment that I found unnerving.
 
4.  Different locations (France, London, North Yorkshire), different styles (mystery, humour/elegiac idyll, social drama), very different books.  Which, if any, did you prefer (can you rank them)?  Why?

Will answer later, as I'm only a third of the way through Carr's book. :)
 
5.  Japrisot's is a view of WW1 from a French point of view.  Did it provide you with a different or fresh perspective on the war compared to what you already knew?  How about the other two books?

Japrisot's POV didn't seem that far off any other to me.  The only thing that brought me up short a bit was when they could drive in a short while to the battle fields. 

 

I wondered at some of the coarse language that was used quite casually by the male characters in front of Mathilde.  In that day and time.....I was quite surprised at it.
 
6.  Did the characterisation in the Japrisot novel work for you?  Any favourite characters?  Any in either of the other two books?

Somehow, I felt the characters were not delved into deeply enough, I didn't have the same visceral reaction to them as I've had from other WWI, or any other, books.  The words were there, but the feeling just was not as strong as I'd have thought.
 

 8.  Mathilde is confined to a wheelchair. Was this important?  Does it have any real effect on the story, or on your perception of it or her?

I admired the way she treated her wheels as though they were her legs, and didn't allow her handicap to impede her in any way.  Although, lets face it, her father's money was a great help in greasing the wheels of her life.  So to speak.  But to give her all credit, she had a great attitude, and was an admirable person. 

 
9.  Tina Lombardi reacted very differently to Mathilde to the same event.  Did this contrast play any useful part in the story?   

They were the opposite sides of the coin, really.  One, Mathilde, had everything in life handed to her on a silver platter......except the use of her legs.  Tina had absolutely nothing in the way of advantages, except the ability to walk.  They both had the grit and determination to find out what happened to their loved one.  Different advantages, different paths to the same conclusion.

 
10.  Did the conclusion surprise you?  What did you think of it?

Not a bit.  There were really only two possible conclusions.  One, he was dead, killed at the time of the incident.  Two, he survived in some manner, probably in a totally shell shocked state, saved by a woman, whether it was a mother figure, or a lover figure.  Considering that this was this type of fiction, it had to be the latter.
 
11.  The conclusions in the other two books are equally important.  What did you think of them?

More on that later. :)
 

Edited by pontalba

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Black Virgin Mountain - Larry Heinemann

 

This post is probably out of order in the strict sense, but maybe not in the larger sense. If it is, then just please chuck it, or throw it off into unrelated chat someplace, so it doesn't derail the intended discussion here. Why? Because I have not read any of these three books and can't discuss any in detail. (I have read A Month in the Country, but with zero memory of anything about it, so it's as good as not having read it at all.)

 

With that elaborate bowing and edging backward toward the door, I'll come to my point. From what I have read here, it seems to me the books -- all three of them -- fail to capture one overwhelming reality. I have not read extensively among war stories (another apology), but only one that I did read made an overwhelming impact on me, by telling a different truth than I have seen in any other book of any sort I have read. Larry Heinemann, in Black Virgin Mountain, describes his experience of war in Viet Nam as so ghastly, so totally horrible as to be completely destructive of the person and personality he was beforehand.

 

The horrors he saw and lived through, the mindless killing, the utter fear he experienced, the atrocity against humanity of the whole thing, the worthlessness of human life, and his benefiting from it all (through survival) left him so shattered that he was unable to even relate to, or communicate with, people at home who had never been "in." He found the civilians all completely shallow and totally un-understanding of what it is like to be on the battlefield, and he found himself completely withdrawn into the memory of his own experience and unable to escape it. That is my recollection and paraphrase, but Heinemann says it is typical of all who have been through the battle experience -- they have no one to talk to, except other veterans who have shared it.

 

It sounds to me like any sense of that "battle fatigue/PTSD/shell shock/whatever" may be missing from the books under discussion. Which I do not intend as a disjunction to derail or dominate discussion here, but rather as a tone which may be missing from the experience of these authors. Tell me I am wrong, or totally out of place. I won't argue, but it is a thought I couldn't not write. Especially since I have seen it convincingly presented in only one place.

Edited by Paul

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Whether the authors would satisfy you, I'm not sure, but in all three books, there is no doubt of the difficulties those who fought in the war have in communicating with those left at home. Chris, in The Return of the Soldier, is so severely traumatised that he is suffering from amnesia, blocking out the last 15 years of his life, reverting back to the only time when he experienced real love; foremost amongst the fears of Jenny and Margaret is what will happen when/if he recovers that memory. Menache, in A Very Long Engagement, completely loses his mind whilst out in no man's land; the difficulties those who fought have in communicating with those who didn't is central to the plot, although it's sometimes difficult to tell where it's because of efforts to protect others or because of the trauma is not always clear (as it wouldn't be to those trying to talk with them). The scarring suffered by Birkin and Moon and the difficulties they have in relating to others, to the extent that Moon can't even discuss with his fellow ex-soldier, is central to A Month in the Country.

So, if you are not getting any sense of those issues, it's probably more to do with the lack of comment in our musings or, more likely, in my failure to sufficiently encourage that to be raised by the questions I chose, than lack of presence in the books - as you'll see specifically from Q7, I was perhaps more focused on the differences between the books than the actual effects - maybe I shouldn't have been! It's certainly there, in spades.

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Paul wrote:  It sounds to me like any sense of that "battle fatigue/PTSD/shell shock/whatever" may be missing from the books under discussion.

 

 

It isn't that it is exactly missing.  But at least in A Very Long Engagement, it is told, rather than shown.  At no time did I feel that the depth of despair was truly put across to the reader.  Told, but not shown.  That's about the best way I can describe it.

 

Now however, I've finished the second book, A Month in the Country.  The effects of the war are particularly shown in the second half of the book.  Shown, not told.  :)  Carr's description of the people and places is so evocative and poignant, absolutely breathtaking.   

 

 

Willoyd wrote: The scarring suffered by Birkin and Moon and the difficulties they have in relating to others, to the extent that Moon can't even discuss with his fellow ex-soldier, is central to A Month in the Country.

 

 

Yes.  I thought Carr showed this brilliantly. 

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Thank you both, pontalba and willoyd, for correcting my misimpression and pointing out that the post-war effects upon the soldiers were a serious part of all books.  I'll subside now and let the discussion follow its main line.

Thank you both for you thoughtful responses. :)

Paul

Edited by Paul

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It isn't that it is exactly missing.  But at least in A Very Long Engagement, it is told, rather than shown.  At no time did I feel that the depth of despair was truly put across to the reader.  Told, but not shown.  That's about the best way I can describe it.

I'm not sure about this. I think we are 'told' this because the story is centred on those who were left behind who only find out what they find out because they are 'told' by those who were there. For instance, we don't ever really 'meet' Maneche. What we know about how the war affects him is what we're told by those Mathilde talks to, and we hear what she hears, or read what she reads, when she does. When she meets That Man, what we get is his testimony - Mathilde doesn't see him for long enough to be shown very much, so we don't get shown much either, but the very fact that it's taken her years to get him to talk says enough in itself.

 

On the other hand, Carr is dealing with the soldiers themselves, and has the time to show us, which, I agree, he does absolutely brilliantly.

Edited by willoyd

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I'm not sure about this. I think we are 'told' this because the story is centred on those who were left behind who only find out what they find out because they are 'told' by those who were there. For instance, we don't ever really 'meet' Maneche. What we know about how the war affects him is what we're told by those Mathilde talks to, and we hear what she hears, or read what she reads, when she does. When she meets That Man, what we get is his testimony - Mathilde doesn't see him for long enough to be shown very much, so we don't get shown much either, but the very fact that it's taken her years to get him to talk says enough in itself.

 

P. 15 of the hardback:

"He was afraid of the war and of death, like almost everyone, but he was also afraid of the wind, that harbinger of gas attacks, afraid of a flare tearing through the night, afraid of himself for he never knew what he might do when he was afraid, afraid of his own side's artillery, afraid of his own gun, afraid of the whine of aerial torpedoes, afraid of mines that explode and engulf a whole section of infantry, afraid................."

 

The third person narration, to me, comes across in a rather sterile fashion.  We are being told of his fear.  If we were shown Cornflower cowering (for example) when the wind blew, or when he saw a flare, or handling his own gun in a tentative or fearful manner, I believe it would have been more effective.  It just sounded like a dry recitation of factoids, to me at least. 

But that comes down to personal taste, and to each his own. :) 

 

I enjoyed the book, in general, I just wanted more.

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The third person narration, to me, comes across in a rather sterile fashion.  We are being told of his fear.  If we were shown Cornflower cowering (for example) when the wind blew, or when he saw a flare, or handling his own gun in a tentative or fearful manner, I believe it would have been more effective.  It just sounded like a dry recitation of factoids, to me at least. 

But that comes down to personal taste, and to each his own. :)

As you say, each to his own!. I can't see how the author could have 'shown' such a complete disintegration by describing an instance of his being fearful - it could only give a very partial picture without a huge amount more narrative, and the book isn't about that disintegration - that's a given at the start. Actually, I'd argue that the author IS showing us. What he's doing is not so much telling us about Manech's fear, but describing the world he's living in, because, effectively, Manech is afraid of everything, and these are the things that now make up his life. He's showing us that Manech is living in a continuous state of fear, afraid of the world he's living in, in complete contrast to the world he grew up in (next paragraph).

 

But I would agree that this is much more 'telling' than 'showing'. Sterile? Objective (observing rather than feeling)? Distant? Yes, all of those things, and I think it's deliberate. The very fact that the author tells the story in he present, he's keeping us at arm's length. We're not part of this world, it is the world of those who are living it, and all we can do is watch it played out. Personally, I find that's what gives the book its impact, but I can understand why you (and others perhaps) feel differently.

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1.  In summary, what did you think of the book(s)? 

I think i'm probably going to be in the minority here but i didn't like A Very Long Engagement at all. I didn't feel like the people in the story were real, to me they came across as just characters in a story & so i just couldn't get into the book & it felt like a real trudge to get to the end. In fact by the end i felt like i'd probably missed a lot within the story as i just switched off as i was reading. The Return Of The Soldier, i enjoyed more but wouldn't say i was gripped. In my copy there was an afterword by Sadie Jones which talked about the story in more depth & was very interesting, i wish i'd read it before i'd read the story as i think i would have thought more about what i was reading & got more out of it. A Month In The Country is one of my favourites, i haven't read it again for the reading circle but for me it was a very emotional read although a short book it is not one to be polished off in one quick bite but something that should be savoured.
 
2.  Had you read any of the authors before?  Would you want to read any of them again?

I doubt i'll read anymore Sebastien Japrisot again but i do have a couple of Rebecca West novels on my TBR pile, The Fountain Overflows & The Birds Fall Down & by Carr i've read & enjoyed The Harpole Report & i also found his biography very interesting.
 
3.  Did you have expectations about any of the books beforehand? How did they match up?

From the synopsis i thought i would enjoy the Japrisot more, Rebecca West was also a new author to me although i didn't enjoy the book as much as i thought i would i do want to try some more of her books & Carr more than matched my expectations a wonderful book. 

 

4.  Different locations (France, London, North Yorkshire), different styles (mystery, humour/elegiac idyll, social drama), very different books.  Which, if any, did you prefer (can you rank them)?  Why?
 I did really enjoy West's descriptions of Harrowweald & Baldry Court , a perfect idyll compared to the horrors of the battlefield.
5.  Japrisot's is a view of WW1 from a French point of view.  Did it provide you with a different or fresh perspective on the war compared to what you already knew?  How about the other two books?
 I can't really say it did give me a fresh perspective perhaps it's unfair but i couldn't help but compare it with Birdsong  Sebastien Faulks which brilliantly captured life in the trenches & was the book that really ignited my interest in WW1.
6.  Did the characterisation in the Japrisot novel work for you?  Any favourite characters?  Any in either of the other two books?

Again Carr's characters all well drawn so i felt a real connection to them, with West the three woman Kitty, Margaret & Jenny, my feelings changed constantly towards them. In the beginning i bristled at Kitty & Jenny's snobbery & felt real sympathy for Margaret but as the story went on i couldn't help but feel enormous sympathy for Kitty, okay she behaved like a sulky child but who wouldn't under such circumstances.
 
7.  All three books feature soldiers damaged by the war, and the effect that has on the people they love, know and meet.  What, if anything, did each have to say that was different from the others?

Not sure about this one but i did just want to say that i wasn't convinced by West's portrayal of someone suffering from shellshock, apart from Chris's amnesia he seemed unaffected by what had happened to him & the fact that one incident was enough to bring back his memory just seemed a little unlikely.
 
8.  Mathilde is confined to a wheelchair. Was this important?  Does it have any real effect on the story, or on your perception of it or her?

I can't really think why this would be important to the story but as i said i did feel like i missed a lot of what i was reading as i wasn't enjoying the story so perhaps it went over my head.
 
 
 11.  The conclusions in the other two books are equally important.  What did you think of them?
As i said in the previous question i wasn't convinced by Chris suddenly regaining his memory but when Sadie Jones explains in the afterword that the title The Return Of The Soldier describes both his physical & mental return i really liked that, i hadn't thought of it in that way.

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Mathilde is confined to a wheelchair. Was this important?  Does it have any real effect on the story, or on your perception of it or her?

 Interestingly, in the film she isn't confined to a wheelchair, although does suffer a polio-induced limp.

 

 

For some reason this made me laugh :D I guess it wasn't so important to the storyline if they downgraded her disability to a limp for the movie.

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1.  In summary, what did you think of the book(s)? 

  I felt the characters only superficially developed.  They were what one would expect, nothing more.

The plucky heroine, the faithful servant, the admonishing family attorney....that sort of thing.

 

 6.  Did the characterisation in the Japrisot novel work for you?  Any favourite characters?  Any in either of the other two books?

Somehow, I felt the characters were not delved into deeply enough, I didn't have the same visceral reaction to them as I've had from other WWI, or any other, books.  The words were there, but the feeling just was not as strong as I'd have thought.

  

 

Yes that's pretty much sums up how i felt as well. In the case of Mathilde i felt i was supposed to like her because despite her disability she was determined to discover the truth but in fact i couldn't really feel any real connection to her.

 

I also forgot to mention that i had trouble remembering who was who & how they were connected to the main characters probably because i struggled to concentrate on the story but a character list at the beginning would have been helpful

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I also forgot to mention that i had trouble remembering who was who & how they were connected to the main characters probably because i struggled to concentrate on the story but a character list at the beginning would have been helpful

 

Now that you mention.....yeah, I did as well.  The various nicknames had me going.  Then connecting those various names with the correct woman was not easy. 

 

We have the film, and I suppose we'll be watching it soon.  It is pretty amusing that they downgraded her handicap though.  Oy. 

 

Re the memory coming back in West's story.......I've heard of incidents of that nature.  Something traumatic from the past being brought suddenly to the attention of the amnesiac being effective.  I'd like to read that afterword you mention, KM.  I got my copy of The Return of the Soldier for free off Amazon, and it didn't include it.  I'll poke around and see what I can find. 

 

pontalba wrote:  4.  Different locations (France, London, North Yorkshire), different styles (mystery, humour/elegiac idyll, social drama), very different books.  Which, if any, did you prefer (can you rank them)?  Why?

Will answer later, as I'm only a third of the way through Carr's book. :)

 

 

 

To add to my previous answer.....as far as ranking is concerned, I'd have to place the Yorkshire area in A Month in the Country at the top of the list.  Partially on account of the isolation of the place, and then there is Carr's descriptions.  Just wonderful.

 

Then the places in The Return of the Soldier.  Actually, I liked Margaret's home...her youthful home...the best.  The garden by the Thames really spoke to me.  Just the sort of place I'd like to have.  :)  Chris's home was, of course, lovely.  But in the end, too manicured for my taste.  Hah, that's Kitty's influence of course and I couldn't stand her!

 

The French countryside didn't seem any different to any other countryside, in it's description.  Lovely, but certainly not unique to France.  Only the battlefields.  And I have to say I've read more evocative descriptions in other books of the same battlefields.  I'm sure I've superimposed those past descriptions onto the ones in A Very Long Engagement

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We have the film, and I suppose we'll be watching it soon.  It is pretty amusing that they downgraded her handicap though.  Oy. 

 

Re the memory coming back in West's story.......I've heard of incidents of that nature.  Something traumatic from the past being brought suddenly to the attention of the amnesiac being effective.  I'd like to read that afterword you mention, KM.  I got my copy of The Return of the Soldier for free off Amazon, and it didn't include it.  I'll poke around and see what I can find. 

 

 

I'll be interested to hear what you think of the movie Pontalba  :smile:

 

That's interesting about the amnesia, i hadn't heard of that before; the mind & the way it works is amazing really when you think about it. Hope you can dig up the afterword somewhere imo it's definitely worth a read.

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As ever, I have responded without reading anyone else’s answers  :)

 

1.  In summary, what did you think of the book(s)? 

 

I have only read one specifically for this circle – A Very Long Engagement –I have The Soldier’s Return on my Kindle and will doubtless get round to it at some stage.

 

Although I haven’t read it for this circle, I have read A Month in the Country before and I loved it.  The writing is poetical feel about it and the author manages to capture exactly how I imagine 1920s rural Yorkshire to be. 

 

I absolutely loved A Very Long Engagement.  It didn’t take me any time at all to get into it and it made me cry at the end – it really brought home the absolute futility of war.  I didn’t want it to end. 

 

2.  Had you read any of the authors before?  Would you want to read any of them again?  

 

As I said above, I’ve read one Carr before and I loved it.  I already have The Battle of Pollocks Crossing on my ‘to read’ pile and his others on my Wish List.  As for Japrisot, I would like to read more based on this story but I will have to research them first.  There don’t appear to be any others in print, although there are some on Amazon Marketplace.  :)

 
3.  Did you have expectations about any of the books beforehand? How did they match up?  

 

I didn’t know anything about the Japrisot book – in fact I hadn’t actually heard of it before it was nominated for this circle so therefore I didn’t have any expectations. 

 

I picked up A Month in the Country on a whim from the library (although I later discovered that I’d added it to my Amazon Wish List in January 2009 – I think my Mum probably recommended it to me.  :) ), so I must have thought I’d enjoy it!
 
4.  Different locations (France, London, North Yorkshire), different styles (mystery, humour/elegiac idyll, social drama), very different books.  Which, if any, did you prefer (can you rank them)?  Why?  

 

I’m really not sure I could choose between the Japrisot and the Carr – I enjoyed them both so much, and because they are so different I’m finding it hard to compare one to the other.  Sorry!
 
5.  Japrisot's is a view of WW1 from a French point of view.  Did it provide you with a different or fresh perspective on the war compared to what you already knew?  How about the other two books?  

 

I did A Level English in 2008 and the synoptic unit was WW1 so I already had a fairly good knowledge of how people felt.  Before my A level I only really though about war from a British perspective – it hadn’t really occurred to me that the war didn’t actually take place on British soil, so whilst there is no doubt the people ‘back home’ were horribly concerned about their loved-ones in France, they didn’t have a real grasp of what it was really like, whereas the people of France, whether they were fighting or were civilians were totally surrounded by the conflict.

 
6.  Did the characterisation in the Japrisot novel work for you?  Any favourite characters?  Any in either of the other two books?  

 

I thought the characters in <i>A Very Long Engagement</i> were very well-written and convincing.  The protagonist, Mathilde, was a strong character who never gave up – I liked that.  As I said, it’s been a few years since I read Carr’s book but I seem to remember that I liked most of the characters that too.

 

7.  All three books feature soldiers damaged by the war, and the effect that has on the people they love, know and meet.  What, if anything, did each have to say that was different from the others?  

 

I have taken my time answering these questions as I found some of them to be quite… not challenging exactly… but they took a lot of thought.  However I don’t really sure how to answer this one.  I think the only thing that I can come up with is that Mathilde stayed totally loyal to Manech and to discovering his fate… I *think*, if I remember correctly, that Tom Birkin was married, but that his experiences of war had changed his relationship with his wife – they had separated, perhaps, or at least become distant?  However, Tom had actually experienced war, whereas Mathilde hadn’t, so they were bound to react differently.

 

Apologies if I’ve misunderstood the question entirely.  :blush:
 
8.  Mathilde is confined to a wheelchair. Was this important?  Does it have any real effect on the story, or on your perception of it or her?  

 

To me it was irrelevant so it didn’t have any effect on my reading of the book.  I’m not clear, having read this question, whether we’re meant to have any specific perceptions of her disability because of it?!
 
9.  Tina Lombardi reacted very differently to Mathilde to the same event.  Did this contrast play any useful part in the story?    

 

Both characters sought to find out the truth of what really happened to their loved ones in very different ways – Tina Lombardi wanted, and exacted, revenge on those who prevented her lover’s pardon from saving him, whereas Mathilde just wanted to find out whether Manech was dead or alive.  I think the contrast served to show how grief can affect people in different ways.  Tina’s outcome was death and Mathilde’s was life.
 
10.  Did the conclusion surprise you?  What did you think of it?  

 

It did surprise me.  I wasn’t sure whether Manech was going to be dead or alive and at various points throughout the novel my opinion changed.  By the end I was fairly certain he was dead.  I liked the ending – I was glad that Mathilde found Manech, even if it was a little bittersweet with Manech not having his memories.  :)
 
11.  The conclusions in the other two books are equally important.  What did you think of them?  

 

I very much liked the ending of A Month in the Country.  It’s been a couple of years since I read it but I seem to remember that it took me by surprise.

 

 

I will be going to bed shortly as I have to be up early tomorrow, but I will come back and read the other replies. :)

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To me it was irrelevant so it didn’t have any effect on my reading of the book.  I’m not clear, having read this question, whether we’re meant to have any specific perceptions of her disability because of it?!

I certainly didn't mean it by asking the question! I put the question simply because, being a relatively unusual device, I had wondered if there was some particular reason for Japrisot making Mathilde wheelchair-bound.

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I wasn't complaining! I simply meant that when I came to that question I considered whether it was meant to have any significance (eg was the reader meant to feel more sympathy to Mathilde because of her disability) but that it didn't really alter my opinion that I didn't consider it relevant!

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I thought the only significance to her infirmity was to garner even more sympathy for her character. As I posted above..."the plucky heroine" syndrome. I did however feel that her Father's wealth rather blunted that effect. Her every physical struggle was eased by that wealth. Of course, her mental anguish would have been unaffected by the money.....but, frankly I didn't get a huge sense of that. Again, the author told of it, but to my eye didn't show it.

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This just an FYI post. :)  I thought some of the readers of the subject books of this thread might be interested in the following.

I've just downloaded, on kindle, from Amazon something quite interesting.  A Fable by William Faulkner.  I'd forgotten he'd fought in WWI.  Here is the bit from Amazon describing it.  Haven't read it yet, but with Faulkner's prose, it can't miss, IMO. :)  And, even better, it was on sale for 2.99 USD.  Can't beat that with a stick. :D

 

"This novel won both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award in 1955. An allegorical story of World War I, set in the trenches in France and dealing ostensibly with a mutiny in a French regiment, it was originally considered a sharp departure for Faulkner. Recently it has come to be recognized as one of his major works and an essential part of the Faulkner oeuvre. Faulkner himself fought in the war, and his descriptions of it "rise to magnificence," according to The New York Times, and include, in Malcolm Cowley's words, "some of the most powerful scenes he ever conceived."

 

WOW. :D

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First of all, I must apologise for the tardiness of my appearance in this thread - I was second in the queue in the library for A Very Long Engagement and the person before me took a while to bring it back! But here are my thoughts!

 

1. In summary, what did you think of the book(s)?

 

I read A Very Long Engagement and The Return of the Soldier. I did really enjoy this first of those (I rated it as a 4/5) and enjoyed following Mathilde along her journey, although I did think the ending was rather predictable. However, the second I rated as a 5/5. For some reason the West novel touched me emotionally more than the other, the writing was beautiful, the effects of the war devastating - even though I hated 50% of the characters :D

 

2. Had you read any of the authors before? Would you want to read any of them again?

 

I had never read either before (or even heard of either of the books), but I will certainly be reading Rebecca West again and will probably revisit Japrisot.

 

3. Did you have expectations about any of the books beforehand? How did they match up?

 

having read the synopses for the voting purposes, I was surprised that my ratings of these two weren't the other way around.

 

4. Different locations (France, London, North Yorkshire), different styles (mystery, humour/elegiac idyll, social drama), very different books. Which, if any, did you prefer (can you rank them)? Why?

 

Sorry - I'm sort of answering these questions ahead of time. The West really tugged at me emotionally, I was so absorbed in the characters and the effects of war on them. With the Japrisot, it did become more about the solution to a mystery in some places.

 

5. Japrisot's is a view of WW1 from a French point of view. Did it provide you with a different or fresh perspective on the war compared to what you already knew? How about the other two books?

 

I have never read a French perspective before, but All Quiet on the Western Front had a far bigger impact for me on different perspectives - simply because in history lessons Germans are not really portrayed as suffering the same things as "our brave boys" - or not to me anyway. But as someone - Janet? - said earlier, the fact they could drive to battlefields brings if home that the French were on top of the fighting. Conversely, in the West story the women at home live in a sheltered idyll (although that obviously wasn't true for the whole island!).

 

6. Did the characterisation in the Japrisot novel work for you? Any favourite characters? Any in either of the other two books?

 

I really liked Mathilde and her determination. Everyone else seemed to exist to help her really rather than having any great characterisation of their own. Whereas, in The Return of the Soldier I loathed Kitty and Jenny from page 1. They were so snotty to Margaret because she looked poor. For heaven's sake, there's a war on and you're still judging people by the quality of their skirt?

 

7. All three books feature soldiers damaged by the war, and the effect that has on the people they love, know and meet. What, if anything, did each have to say that was different from the others?

 

Of the two I read, I thought it was interesting that Margaret is almost positively impacted by Chris' amnesia in the beginning, but then left agonised again by the end as she has to bring him out of it.

 

8. Mathilde is confined to a wheelchair. Was this important? Does it have any real effect on the story, or on your perception of it or her?

 

Obviously it had a big effect on Mathilde, but in terms of the story it didn't really have much effect due to her father's wealth.

 

9. Tina Lombardi reacted very differently to Mathilde to the same event. Did this contrast play any useful part in the story?

 

It shows that people react differently to grief - as I'm sure we've all sadly seen in our own lives.

 

10. Did the conclusion surprise you? What did you think of it?

 

No, I thought he was alive from page 1 to be honest and it was obvious throughout the story that if he had been of "sound mind" he would have come looking for Mathilde - in the same way that the other survivor found his family. I also thought the title hinted at him being alive in terms of them being engaged for a long time. Are you really engaged to someone if they are dead? Obviously the word engagement has two meanings, but I was fairly confident it could mean that too.

 

11. The conclusions in the other two books are equally important. What did you think of them?

 

The conclusion of the West book nearly moved me to tears. The end of regained youth and happiness, back to a life that he doesn't seem happy with, memories of a death of a child, and a return to fighting (almost certainly). All epitomised in someone walking across a lawn. I sort of liked how I was brought out of that emotion by wanting to slap Kitty who had the last word as usual!

 

Any other comments or thoughts?

 

Like others, I sometimes found it difficult to match women with the condemned men due to the nicknames used interchangeably with their real names. I kept having to Pause to flick back and check!

Edited by Alexi

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Alexi i didn't feel as strongly as you about The Soldiers Return but i have found myself thinking about it quite a bit over the month. I listened to an episode of All In The MInd on radio 4 where they talked about shell shock & how an awful lot of cases went undiagnosed. Someone said that 'What the state didn't pay for women had to live with' & i thought of Margaret, Kitty & Jenny who had to deal with the Chris's amnesia & how it impacted on all there lives. I must say i had a huge amount of sympathy for Kitty, having your husband come home only to find that he is in love with another woman from his past would be hard for anyone to deal with. 

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KM, I just couldn't work up much, if any, sympathy for Kitty.  She was snotty as the day is long, and didn't seem to have any deeper feelings for anyone.  It seemed to be all superficial with her. 

 

 

 

 

Alexi wrote: I thought he was alive from page 1 to be honest and it was obvious throughout the story that if he had been of "sound mind" he would have come looking for Mathilde - in the same way that the other survivor found his family. I also thought the title hinted at him being alive in terms of them being engaged for a long time. Are you really engaged to someone if they are dead? Obviously the word engagement has two meanings, but I was fairly confident it could mean that too

 

Agreed.  On all counts. :)

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