A Very Long Engagement - Sébastien Japrisot, Linda Coverdale I've been reviewing for over 5 years. In that time, there is only one book that I ever started that I did not finish. Well, now that number is increasing to two.

I won't give a summary as many, many others have given a really detailed summary that is far better than anything I could ever have done justice to. Instead, let me tell you why I stopped at page 113 and why I have no inclination to finish this book.

The first twenty pages are spent introducing five soldiers--their names, their prison numbers, their family, their main characteristics. The next thirty or so pages are spent reintroducing those five soldiers and continuing a few moments ahead in their story. And finally, at page 60, we are introduced, in a large, very exposition-heavy 5 page section, our main character.

I found the writing is terribly confusing. I don't know if it was meant to be that way, or if that is a fault of translating from French, or maybe I am just plain stupid, but sentences sounded weird, the writing was dense, and I had to start skimming in order to make any progress in this book. The book is written in present tense, but that felt more unwieldy and clumsy than some YA books I've read. Sections switched points of view sometimes without a section break, leading from first-person to third-person in just a paragraph. And it seems an omniscient narrator is dictating this...except for a few places where I thought it was Mathilde.

The characters are painfully dull. First of all, I could hardly keep them all straight. They were like a deck of only red cards, which the author flashed at me. I couldn't tell who was a diamond, who was a heart, if that person was a 3 of hearts or perhaps a 6 of diamonds. The characters were so flat, it would be a compliment to call them two-dimensional. About the only one I cared for was the soldier wrongfully accused of self-mutilation...and I have absolutely no idea what his name is or who he is beyond that he didn't self-mutilate and was wrongfully charged. Mathilde was a horrible character, in my opinion. She was stiff, unlikeable (calling random people "sh!t kicker" is NOT a way to endear a character to me), and oddly characterized. I don't mind having a woman proud of her body, but this passage just doesn't sound like any woman I know:

"She has very lovely breasts. She's proud of them: they're heavy, well-rounded, and softer than silk. When she caresses her nipples she soon feels like making love. She makes love all by herself."

Male fantasy? Bad translation? A very, extremely confident woman that I've never encountered? I don't have a clue.

Mathilde exchanges letters with various people. These people are startlingly open about their private lives, sometimes going on pages and pages (when they supposedly aren't big on writing) to detail every last detail of that person's life to a complete stranger.

The story is supposed to be about a mystery, but it really didn't kick into gear until the last 20 pages that I read. Even then, I have no drive to figure it out. I predict one of three outcomes: 1) Mathilde finds Manech and reunites (sure, a litfic book is really going to choose the "happily ever after" ending), 2) Mathilde finds Manech and doesn't reunite (most likely), and 3) Mathilde finds Manech dead (too depressing, even for a litfic book). It doesn't really matter what ending will be chosen. Lessons will be Learned; People will Change; Morals will be Passed on.

I read the last 20 pages or so and looks like I was right--Mathilde does find Manech, but he has lost his memory, so she leaves him in his new life.

And this is why I am giving up on this book. There is no way I can force myself to read another page, and with so many other better books out there, I am going to pass on this one.

HOWEVER, just because I didn't like it, doesn't mean it's horrible. I rated it 2 stars because "I didn't like it"; I'm sure lots of people who love mysteries, historicals, and books about World War I will love this. To them, I say, go ahead and give this book a try. I hope you have a much more enjoyable read than I did.