Sébastien Japrisot 1931–
(Born Jean Baptiste Rossi) French novelist, screenwriter, and translator.
The following entry presents an overview of Japrisot's career through 1991.
Japrisot is recognized as a master of the mystery novel. His stories feature likable protagonists caught up in increasingly complicated predicaments that are often resolved in strikingly simple ways. Acclaimed for their literary style and thematic richness, several of Japrisot's novels have also been adapted for the screen.
Born Jean Baptiste Rossi, Japrisot achieved literary acclaim in France with his French translation of J. D. Salinger's Nine Stories (1953). Writing Les mal partis (1950; Awakening) and all of his subsequent novels under the pseudonym Sébastien Japrisot—an anagrammatic rendering of his given name—he eventually adapted several of his novels for the screen and wrote screenplays for such noted directors as Constantin Costa-Gavras, René Clement, and Anatole Litvak. Winner of the Grand Prix de la Littérature Policière for Piège pour Cendrillon (1962; Trap for Cinderella) and the 1966 Prix d'Honneur for La dame dans l'auto avec des lunettes et un fusil (1966; The Lady in a Car with Glasses and a Gun), Japrisot continues to live and write in France.
Japrisot's novels often use complex plots to create intrigue and suspense. In Trap for Cinderella, for example, two young women are burned in a fire. One of them survives but has amnesia and is disfigured beyond recognition. The woman's identity becomes the novel's main mystery: she is either a flamboyant heiress or the heiress's sister, the murderess who set the fire. Beginning with the murder of a young woman in a train, Compartiment tueurs (1963; The 10:30 from Marseilles) reveals, through a series of flashbacks, information about the lives of the main characters as the police attempt to solve the crime. After various suspects are killed off, a small child accidentally stumbles upon the solution to the murders. The Lady in the Car with Glasses and a Gun also focuses on a young woman. Borrowing her employer's car for a trip to the seashore, the protagonist picks up a hitchhiker who injures her hand. From then on—though she is in an area she has never visited before—she encounters people who recognize her as a murderess. L'été meurtrier (1980; One Deadly Summer) is narrated by four characters and concerns the murder of an Austrian woman by her French neighbors. Hated for unclear reasons, the Austrian woman is derisively nicknamed "Eva Braun"—the name of Adolf Hitler's mistress—and eventually beaten and raped. Before dying from her injuries, she gives birth to a daughter who, years later, avenges her mother's murder. La passion des femmes (1986; The Passion of Women), considered more erotic and less suspenseful than Japrisot's previous novels, concerns five women and a mysterious young man who, as the story begins, lies dying from a gunshot wound. The young man loved and abandoned each woman, using a different name with each one. As the women narrate the stories of their relationships with him, they eventually reveal why he was shot and who did the shooting. Early twentieth-century France is the setting for Un long dimanche de fiançailles (1991; A Very Long Engagement), a story about a young woman investigating the death of a soldier to whom she was engaged. Unlike Japrisot's other novels, A Very Long Engagement is based on an actual historical event, in which a young soldier and four comrades wounded themselves to avoid combat in World War I. Convicted by their commanding officer of treason, they were thrown into the no-man's-land between French and German lines where, presumably, they would be killed in the ensuing battle. In Japrisot's version of events the soldier's bride-to-be travels throughout France after the war, interviewing people who can provide information about her betrothed's death.
Most critics have applauded Japrisot's clear, concise language; his well-constructed, complex plots; and his ability to make the conventions of the mystery genre plausible. They have also praised his skill at creating realistic, likable characters while evoking and maintaining an aura of suspense. Critics have noted that Japrisot's use of multiple narrators—in The Passion of Women and One Deadly Summer—is unusual in the mystery genre. His often intensely erotic portrayal of human relationships adds, most critics agree, another unique aspect to his oeuvre. As Howard Junker has stated: "Japrisot is obviously a great talent, whom students of the popular novel and of the narrative form in general will want to analyze."
Les mal partis [Awakening] (novel) 1950
Piège pour Cendrillon [Trap for Cinderella] (novel) 1962
Compartiment tueurs [The 10:30 from Marseilles] (novel) 1963; also published as The Sleeping-Car Murders, 1978
∗Compartiment tueurs [with Constantin Costa-Gavras] [The Sleeping Car Murders] (screenplay) 1966
†La dame dans l'auto avec des lunettes et un fusil [The Lady in the Car with Glasses and a Gun] (novel) 1966
‡Adieu l'ami [Goodbye, Friend] (screenplay) 1968
§Le passager de la pluie [with Lorenzo Ventavoli] [Rider on the Rain] (screenplay) 1970
§La course du lièvre à travers les champs [And Hope to Die] (screenplay) 1972
L'été meurtrier [One Deadly Summer] (novel) 1980
∗∗L'été meurtrier [with Jean Becker] [One Deadly Summer] (screenplay) 1984
La passion des femmes [The Passion of Women] (novel) 1986; also published as Women in Evidence, 1990
Un long dimanche de fiançailles [A Very Long Engagement] (novel) 1991
∗This film was also directed by Costa-Gavras.
†This work served as the basis for the 1970 film The Lady in the Car with Glasses and a Gun, directed by Anatole Litvak and written by Richard Harris and Eleanor Perry.
‡This film was...
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SOURCE: A review of The 10:30 from Marseilles, in The New York Times Book Review, November 17, 1963, p. 58.
[Anthony Boucher was a pseudonym used by William Anthony Parker White, who was a mystery writer and critic. In the following excerpt, he favorably assesses The 10:30 from Marseilles.]
Sebastien Japrisot, one of France's distinguished translators (he was, for instance, the first French translator of J. D. Salinger), recently won the Grand Prix de Littérature Policière, the major French crime-novel award, for his second novel, Piège Pour Cendrillon (A Trap for Cinderella)—of which one of the jurors exclaimed, "C'est le Marienbad du roman policier!" His first novel, Compartiment Tueurs, which some French critics have preferred to the prizewinner, now appears here, in a highly readable translation by Francis Price, as The 10:30 from Marseilles. It clearly reveals the most welcome new talent in the detective story to reach us from France since … well, probably since the early Simenons almost three decades ago.
This is largely a straight police-procedural starring the likable and believable Inspector Grazziano of the Police Judiciaire; but is also a puzzle-novel in the classic mold, with a fine setup of murder in a train compartment sleeping six, with the remaining five (suspects or witnesses?) being steadily eliminated by death as the Inspector...
(The entire section is 251 words.)
SOURCE: A review of Trap for Cinderella, in The New York Times Book Review, July 5, 1964, pp. 14-15.
[In the following excerpt, Boucher offers a favorable review of Trap for Cinderella, contending that the novel is "a beautifully intricate essay in novel-writing and mystery-making."]
Sebastien Japrisot, the French translator (of J. D. Salinger among others), achieved a good deal of recognition here last year with his first novel, Compartiment Tueurs, translated as The 10:30 From Marseilles—a book which most reviewers, including me, welcomed as the most interesting French import in the crime field since the debut of Simenon. Meanwhile his second novel, Piège Pour Cendrillon, went on to win the Grand Prix de la Littérature Policière, the most prestigious of France's many crime-novel awards. It has now been ably translated by Helen Weaver, as Trap for Cinderella.
This is a beautifully intricate essay in novel-writing and mystery-making, in which the narrator, having almost been burned to death, finds herself with a mind wiped blank and a body reconstructed by plastic surgery—so that she has no notion whether she is the madcap heiress people tell her she must be. If she is, who tried to kill her? If she is not, may she herself be a murderess? The uncertainties and ambivalence are sustained with great skill. I still find The 10:30 even...
(The entire section is 246 words.)
SOURCE: "On the Road," in Newsweek, Vol. LXX, No. 25, December 18, 1967, pp. 110-110A.
[In the following review, Junker praises The Lady in the Car with Glasses and a Gun.]
Whodunit? Who is responsible for keeping this magnificent thriller hidden? Why haven't critics heaped praise upon it? Why haven't readers fought to buy it? Unlike most novels published this year, The Lady in the Car can be—and must be—read in one sitting. It cannot be put down, and that, mystery-lovers, is the ultimate test. Last year in France, Lady spent months on the best-seller list—an achievement few suspense novels ever match. And it also won the coveted Prix d'Honneur. In 1963, Sebastien Japrisot's second novel, Trap for Cinderella, won the Grand Prix de la Littérature Policière. And his first novel was made into the brilliant film The Sleeping Car Murders, with Yves Montand, which had a big success in the U.S.
Japrisot is obviously a great talent, whom students of the popular novel and of the narrative form in general will want to analyze. For suspense seekers, Lady is the first-person adventure of a near-sighted blonde, an advertising secretary who wouldn't ordinarily take a joy ride in her boss's Thunderbird but, on a rare impulse, does just that. This first time is almost her last.
It is, of course, the classic situation, the damsel in...
(The entire section is 321 words.)
SOURCE: A review of L'été meurtrier, in World Literature Today, Vol. 53, No. 1, Winter, 1979, p. 77.
[In the following favorable review of One Deadly Summer, Walt notes Japrisot's use of multiple narrators.]
Rebecca West, covering a trial of Southerners indicted in the wake of a "lynching bee," found a partial explanation for the townspeople's violence: the brutal heat that was a sovereign fact of life before the advent of air conditioning. Japrisot's characters (despite his title) are violent in season and out and throw morality to the winds, whether they blow from North Africa or the Alps.
Indeed, the event that sets off a train of horrors in L'été meurtrier [One Deadly Summer] occurs on a winter day when three men beat and rape an Austrian woman nicknamed "Eva Braun" by hostile French neighbors. The child she bears eight months later was supposedly fathered by one of the rapists. Eva marries a man whom she despises because he seems too cowardly to avenge the crime. It is her daughter—grown, beautiful, ungovernable but devoted to Eva and hyped up by the heat of an abnormal summer—who sets out to explore every possible means of vengeance. To say that the results are unforeseen is only to affirm that Japrisot is a master of sensationalism.
The story is told by four characters, each offering circumstantial detail that illuminates the mores...
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SOURCE: A review of One Deadly Summer, in Newsweek, Vol. XCV, No. 26, June 30, 1980, p. 68.
[Strouse is an author and editor, whose books include Alice James: A Biography (1980). In the following review, she comments on the way Japrisot constructs characters and plot in One Deadly Summer.]
This compelling new tale by the author of The Sleeping-Car Murders is set in a tiny village, population 143, near the Combes Pass in the south of France. Told in the four voices of its central characters, it takes place in the summer of 1976 but reaches back 21 years, to the winter of 1955, for the key to its mystery.
The main narrator [in One Deadly Summer] is Fiorimondo Montecciari, commonly known as "Ping-Pong," the son of a southern Italian emigrant who came to France on foot pulling a player piano behind him. Ping-Pong works in a garage and lusts after "Elle" (short for Eliane and, of course, French for "she"), who has recently moved to the village with her German mother and crippled father. Elle had been elected the previous year's "Miss Camping-Caravaning" in a beauty contest and likes to sashay around the village exciting all the men. She also likes Marilyn Monroe—not her movies but her life: "How wonderful it was that Marilyn died like that, swallowing things, with all those photographs the next day, that she was Marilyn Monroe to the end." Elle doesn't make...
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SOURCE: A review of La Passion des femmes, in The French Review, Vol. LXI, No. 6, May, 1988, pp. 991-92.
[In the following review of La Passion des femmes, Mackey suggests that while much of the novel is captivating, it is, finally, not entirely satisfying.]
The novelist Jean-Baptiste Rossi, whose anagrammatic nom de plume, Sébastien Japrisot, is more widely known, published his eighth novel in 1986, which found its way immediately onto the best-seller lists in France. With the renown of L'Eté meurtrier and the hugely successful film, a certain following has apparently been sustained by the commercial reclame of La Passion des femmes.
It is a love story, a work of suspense and pursuit, a collection of often erotic encounters that examine the biases of our perceptions, a surreal glimpse into the question of ultimate reality. It easily ensnares the reader into its strange fiction where different mirrors cast differing versions along a very long road indeed. A young man rises from a sandy beach, his shirt stained by a wound as reddening as the setting sun on this later summer afternoon. One by one images of various young women seem to appear, each taking a turn on a teetertotter from nowhere. Why this wound? Why these apparitions?
Facets of the young man's story (or stories) are revealed through the recollections of seven disparate...
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SOURCE: A review of The Passion of Women, in Kirkus Reviews, Vol. LVIII, No. 15, August 1, 1990, pp. 1029-30.
[In the following review, the critic contends that The Passion of Women is an erotic but slight mystery adventure.]
Japrisot, who has long specialized in languorous, eroticized suspense (The Sleeping-Car Murders, One Deadly Summer, etc.), offers [in The Passion of Women] more erotic languor and less suspense than usual in this eight-dimensional portrait of a mysterious convict on the run.
As the novel begins, its hero falls to earth, dying from a gunshot wound. In a series of flashbacks featuring eight successive women he has encountered in his escape—a flight that has taken him from the coast of France to a Pacific island during wartime—the hero shows different faces, or at least different names, to each of his loves. Whether they know him as Vincent, Beau Masque, Tony, Francis, Edouard, Frédéric, Maurice, or Christophe, each woman—from Emma, the young bride he kidnaps on her wedding night, to Marie-Martine, his youthful love who returns as his lawyer when he's finally recaptured by his nemesis Sgt. Malignaud—begins as his victim, gets him into her power, then falls in love with him (even though more than one confesses to shooting him). The chapters are by turns steamy and touching, but they don't generate much momentum, because although...
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SOURCE: A review of The Passion of Women, in West Coast Review of Books, Vol. 16, No. 1, January, 1991, pp. 31-2.
[In the following review of The Passion of Women, Watson focuses on how multiple narrators and a clear prose style effectively contribute to the mystery and suspense of the story.]
The main character in this witty, provocative novel [The Passion of Women] is a man who appears only briefly onstage. The story of his life is told to us indirectly, by the eight women who loved and were left by this man, and by the end of the book we feel we know him as well as any of them.
Which is to say, we probably don't really know him at all.
We first see this mysterious figure through the eyes of Emma, a young woman kidnapped on her wedding night by an escaped convict named Vincent. He's described next by Belinda, a prostitute who hides and falls in love with Tony, a man on the run who tells her he was shot by a bride he'd kidnapped. Still later, he appears as Frédéric, the lover of Frou-Frou, a starlet whose acting is outclassed by her skill as a manicurist.
In these, and in his five other appearances, several things about this mystery man appear constant. He is on the run from the law; he has been convicted of a crime he claims never to have committed; and he is, first and foremost, a dreamer and a lover of women. As a boy, he...
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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...
(The entire section is 474 words.)
SOURCE: "High Above the Trenches," in Los Angeles Times Book Review, August 8, 1993, pp. 3, 6.
[An American critic and journalist, Eder received the Pulitzer Prize for criticism in 1987. In the following highly favorable review of A Very Long Engagement, he argues that the novel is thematically richer than most mystery fiction, describing it as "a hybrid of the detective story and the classical quest."]
Procrastination is the heart of writing, and by that measure, this review starts off with a lot of heart. You can struggle for days, not to say what you want but to resist saying what you don't want. It has been a battle to avoid writing of Sébastien Japrisot's novel [A Very Long Engagement] about World War I as a kind of latter-day War and Peace. I lost. It is a kind of War and Peace.
This is not to call it an epic—though in 300 compressed pages it has something of the spaciousness—or to fit it with the Great Novel collar. I think it could wear one, but a daily reviewer should probably leave the collar to time, and meanwhile regard the neck. The Tolstoy reference is specific. A Very Long Engagement finds a chilling and humane way to evoke the trench-fought war of 1914–18, whose self-corrupting stasis was only an extreme variation of what lodges in many other wars. And while telling of France's war, it wanders around telling beautifully of...
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SOURCE: "No Man's Land," in The New York Times Book Review, September 12, 1993, p. 24.
[Daughter of the seventh earl of Longford, Lady Rachel Mary Billington is an English novelist, nonfiction writer, author of children's literature, dramatist, and critic. In the following favorable review of A Very Long Engagement, she contends that the story is a morality tale about war.]
World War I has always inspired writers, as if art (in particular poetry) could do something to overcome the dominance of death. The war's notorious trenches introduced a new form of horror that killed, maddened and deformed. Afterward, Europe was filled with widows, mothers without sons, sorrowing sweethearts. It is not surprising, then, that the French writer Sébastian Japrisot, whose prose uses the poetry of the visual, has taken one wartime tragedy and turned it into a tale about morality, a novel in which a few strands of goodness and heroism gleam among so much suffering and degradation.
The protagonist of A Very Long Engagement is Mathilde, a young woman whose fiancé, known as Cornflower because of his blue eyes, is reported killed in action in 1917. The story tells of her efforts to discover how he died.
This might seem simple enough—almost a cliché, you would think. But before introducing Mathilde, Mr. Japrisot gives us a terrible curtain raiser: in a series of horrifying...
(The entire section is 788 words.)
SOURCE: "Seeking Fiancé's Fate, and Finding Bigger Issues," in The New York Times, September 21, 1993, p. C17.
[In the following review, Kakutani praises the clear language and philosophical themes of Japrisot's historical wartime thriller A Very Long Engagement.]
The event is horrific: in World War I, five wounded French soldiers, their arms tied behind their backs, are marched by their own troops through the trenches to the edge of no man's land. There they are abandoned in the snow to die in the crossfire with German troops. All five have been court-martialed and condemned to death for self-inflicted wounds.
This chilling story, which forms the core of Sébastien Japrisot's riveting new novel, is reminiscent of Stanley Kubrick's 1957 movie Paths of Glory (in which three French soldiers are tried and executed for cowardice in the line of duty), and A Very Long Engagement shares that film's concern with the brutalities of military justice. Mr. Japrisot, however, uses a wider-angle lens than Mr. Kubrick did. His view of people is ultimately more optimistic, more forgiving than the film maker's, and his novel consequently leaves the reader with not only an understanding of the horrors of war but also an appreciation of the kindness and bravery possible amid all the death and pain.
Regarded as a master of psychological suspense in his native France, Mr....
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