World War I is underway and, in January 1917, young Manech is one of five French soldiers who is unceremoniously tossed into their own front line and left for the enemy, the Germans. Each soldier, including Manech, was previously court martialed and found guilty of self-injury, leading to their fate of being left for the enemy on the front line. The soldiers had varied lives as civilians: Manech was a fisherman, and the others were a farmer, a carpenter, a mechanic, and a pimp/convict.
The trench into which the five soldiers are deposited in the trench with their hands tied behind their back, and in the snow and darkness, is referred to as Bingo Crepuscule. Days later, five bodies are recovered, and their families receive notice that they soldiers died “in the line of duty.” No mention is made of the fact that they were sent to the front line in Bingo Crepuscule and left to the Germans.
Fast-forward to August 1919, where Mathilde Donnay, a lifelong friend-turned-lover and fiancé of Manech’s, receives a letter from a former solider who informs her that he was acquainted with Manech during the war. Mathilde pays a visit to this man, Sergeant Esperanza, where he is dying in a hospital. Sergeant Esperanza tells Mathilde about the fate of the five soldiers being sent into Bingo Crepuscule. Esperanza also gives Mathilde various copies of letters and a photograph of the men.
Mathilde returns home and rereads the letters, committing them to memory, and she begins to think that perhaps Sergeant Esperanza’s story is either incorrect or incomplete - particularly the fact that at least one of the soliders may have survived their ordeal. Mathilde begins her own investigation into finding out the fate of Manech as well as the other soldiers. Mathilde loves Manech, and she hopes that he perhaps is still alive, after all these years.
A Very Long Engagement is a compelling mystery, and Mathilde is a strong, appealing heroine who is determined to find out what happened to her dear Manech. Confined to a wheelchair since an accident as a toddler left her paralyzed from the waist down, Mathilde’s disability does not deter her from participating in “real life,” which includes uncovering the real fate of the five soldiers. The author weaves an intricate tale as Mathilde delves further into her investigation. While I found the book to be a bit too long, I enjoyed the author’s dry wit and humor that was interspersed throughout, as well as his keen ability to create a fascinating characters in this intricate mystery.