Sébastien Japrisot Criticism - Essay

Anthony Boucher (review date 17 November 1963)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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 investigates them. There are excellent flashbacks into the lives and characters of the compartment sleepers and admirable use of that rare device, the Least Suspected Detective. In all, a highly satisfactory import that makes one hungry for more.

Anthony Boucher (review date 5 July 1964)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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 more impressive, both in plot and in writing; but Trap certainly maintains Japrisot's reputation as a highly original and professional writer of murder-suspense.

Howard Junker (review date 18 December 1967)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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 super-distress, while various sinister types plot her downfall. But assisted by well-remembered advice from "Mama Supe," the head of the orphanage where she grew up, and helped by the kindly attention of a prepossessing hitchhiker (who should be played by Belmondo) and by a kindly truck driver (obviously Jean Gabin), the nearsighted heroine … well, to find out what she does and what is done to her, you must read the book. It is a chilling, baffling psychological fooler that sparkles with all the juicy terrors that can attack the heart and body.

J. Walt (review date Winter 1979)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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 of a town ineffably bored and struggling to escape its shadow through sports, drinking, addiction to movies and television, unending promiscuity. While he probably owes something to Poe and Dumas, Japrisot would hoot at the romanticism of Dumas and the Cinderella motif that turns a common sailor into the Count of Monte Cristo. Yet who will say that contemporary cynicism is less of a posture than yesterday's romanticism?

Jean Strouse (review date 30 June 1980)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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 sense to Ping-Pong or his brothers, one of whom warns that "you couldn't trust people who had such a limited vocabulary—they were often the most complicated people."

Sure enough, she turns out to be the most complicated person around. Fragments of her disturbing story come slowly together like the pieces in a psychological jigsaw puzzle—rape, murder, incest, revenge, split personality. Japrisot slices into these small-town European lives with all the precision of a fine surgeon. He gets each voice just right, in Alan Sheridan's deft translation, and Elle's bizarre behavior gradually begins to make sense. By the end, you feel more sympathy than horror at the ghastly truth.

Charles Mackey (review date May 1988)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Kirkus Reviews (review date 1 August 1990)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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 the novel comes on like Rashomon, the heroines' narratives fit together smoothly except for the contradictions between the accounts of Belinda and Zozo, two Parisian whores; certainly the hero, whatever his name is, is always himself. The solution to the mystery of who shot the hero is a letdown, but Japrisot's neatest puzzle—why are all these desirable women dreaming of romance in terms of such a narcissistic male fantasy?—is resolved by an ending that (though a bit of a cheat) is perfectly in keeping with the texture of the hero's insouciant adventures.

Japrisot's lightest soufflé to date—a sexual odyssey whose few pretensions to depth he handles with more grace and wit than Erica Jong.

Christine Watson (review date January 1991)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Anita Brookner (review date 21-28 December 1991)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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....

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Richard Eder (review date 8 August 1993)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Rachel Billington (review date 12 September 1993)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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,...

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Michiko Kakutani (review date 21 September 1993)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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