May 18, 2010


by Sebastien Japrisot
translated from the French by Helen Weaver
176 pages, Harvill Pr (1962)

Review by Maria Bustillos

“... like Simenon proof-read by Robbe-Grillet” -- Figaro Litteraire

There’s a little bookshelf in the lobby of the lovely Santorini hotel from which I write, containing a motley collection of novels mostly in English, with some French and German ones. I could not resist the above jacket blurb, and I’m so glad I didn’t.

Sebastien Japrisot is the pen name of Jean-Baptiste Rossi (an anagram!) He had a long and successful career as a novelist, screenwriter and director. His best-known work is the novel A Very Long Engagement, from which the film was made. M. Japrisot has been called, according to Wikipedia, the Graham Greene of France. But I don’t think Mr. Greene ever wrote such a smashingly creepy thriller as the subject volume.

The situation borders on melodrama: an arsonist’s fire; two girls, one an heiress, the other a bank clerk; one of them survives, a victim of amnesia, so badly burned that her face must be reconstructed. Which one is she? Japrisot’s treatment of this absurd situation is surprisingly absorbing, though—really gripping, in fact, because his story focuses entirely on the psychological, on all sorts of unexpected twists and turns, betrayals and counter-betrayals, at a pace so cracking and wild that the reader is liable to read the whole thing in one gulp, as I did.

The structure of the book is also deceptive; it’s far more complex than a (necessarily) bolting-down reading would make evident. There’s great craft in Japrisot’s refusal to bring the narrator’s pov into sharp focus. The exposition of past events is handled very deftly, and new characters brought in to reveal new details with a maximum of cliff-hanging shock and suspense.

Sadly, we no longer have the luxury of this fantastically crazy, creepy plot, because of that pesky DNA testing!! So the upcoming film of this story (! dir. Iain Softley; it was already filmed once, in a French version that I can’t wait to see) is going to be a period piece, I guess like The Talented Mr. Ripley? The period settings and costumes did wonders for that movie, to be sure. I do hope the remake comes off! For Trap for Cinderella is likewise a very stylish 60s thriller, rather reminiscent of those chic and rather depraved French movies of the period, e.g. ‘Blow-Up’. I love the style of Helen Weaver’s English prose, too, recalling as it does all manner of glamorous things of that vanished world: Cap d’Antibes, bouffant hairdos, Fernet-Branca, baccarat, tiny convertible cars, etc.

In any case, this is a perfect summer read. So pick one up before you go off on your next vacation ... or alternatively, there’s a copy in the lobby of the Anemoessa Villas here in Santorini.

1 comment:

  1. I enjoyed this book a lot, but one thing struck me as odd, it was only right towards the end when the narrator stepped out of the shadows of the ensemble office cast, that I realised I had very little notion of who he was. That is quite unusual for me in a read, not to make huge demands of my narrator - one of the charms of this book and Ferris' skillful writing I feel.

    marc nash