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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

One Deadly Summer

Sébastien Japrisot

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To purchase One Deadly Summer

Title: One Deadly Summer
Author: Sébastien Japrisot
Genre: Novel
Written: 1977 (Eng. 1980, rev. 2018_
Length: 304 pages
Original in: French
Availability: One Deadly Summer - US
One Deadly Summer - UK
One Deadly Summer - Canada
L'été meurtrier - Canada
One Deadly Summer - India
L'été meurtrier - France
Blutiger Sommer - Deutschland
  • French title: L'été meurtrier
  • Translated by Alan Sheridan (1980); "Adapted by Gallic Books" (2018)
  • One Deadly Summer was made into a film in 1983, directed by Jean Becker, and starring Isabelle Adjani

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Our Assessment:

B : long, long simmer rather than burn, but quite nicely done

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The NY Times Book Rev. . 26/7/1981 .

  From the Reviews:
  • "This chilling story of psychological suspense is the work of a French novelist who has been influenced by American crime writing, yet on its own terms it is a most original creation." - The New York Times Book Review

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The deadly summer of the title is that of 1976, the setting a small town in the south of France. Eliane -- called Elle --, who turns twenty over that fateful summer, moved to the town with her parents -- the mother everyone calls 'Eva Braun' because she is German (actually Austrian) and the bedridden invalid father -- the year before, and it is Elle who is at the center of the events that unfold.
       One Deadly Summer is presented in six chronological parts, the narrator changing from one to the next (though with some getting two turns). The dominant perspective is that of car mechanic and voluntary fireman Florimond Monteciarri, called Ping-Pong, who narrates the opening and closing sections of the book -- almost half the total. Early on he already ominously notes: "things were different before June", and the basic outlines -- or shadows -- of the novel are clear fairly early on: Elle seeks revenge for some horrific event in the past, and Ping-Pong is to be her main instrument for it. What exactly happened in the past becomes clear, and then is fully reveealed, relatively soon, and most of the novel is a slow simmer of Elle's plan unfolding.
       Ping-Pong's father is dead, but he lives with his mother and younger brothers -- bicycle racer Mickey and high school student Boo-Boo -- and a deaf aunt, whom they call Cognata. Already at the start Ping-Pong mentions his father's pianola -- dragged all the way from his original Italian home -- and it is clear the now more or less derelict instrument, and especially that last time it was brought back to the family home, on a fateful night some two decades earlier, has a role to play in the story.
       Elle seduces Ping-Pong -- though she takes her time before making her move -- and soon establishes herself in the Monteciarri household. Eventually, she and Ping-Pong get married -- an immediate vortex, taking everything down with it. As Ping-Pong sums up:

     It was Sunday night, July 18. I lost her on Wednesday, July 28. Our marriage lasted eleven days, including the wedding day. Then I did the wrong thing.
       From the first, it's clear that Elle -- who, like Ping-Pong, narrates two separate sections of the novel -- is a disturbed young woman, unable to let go of an old, haunting horror. She has a difficult relationship with her parents, refusing to see her father (and the reason for his debilitation adds another twist to the story), while both very close and yet also distant from her mother. She has numerous other relationships of varying intimacy, including with the devoted, bookish Mlle Dieu; she also teases Ping-Pong's brothers, her shapely body hard to ignore, especially when she puts it on display as she does. While always working towards her ends -- "They'll get what they deserve. Their families will suffer." --, she is also still very young in many ways, and both impulsive and emotional.
       Most significantly, Elle is caught up in and consumed by her desire for revenge, blurring everything else and all other potential in her life. Even she at times is aware of being too single-mindedly possessed: in the sections she narrates she sometimes shifts to an outside perspective, looking over the scene from a more objective remove, as if it is another who is acting in her place:
I look down at her, from the stillness of my mind, feeling neither disgust nor contempt, nothing. I said to her, 'Oh ! What are you doing, my little Eliane, what are they doing to you ?'
       A nice touch is that Elle is quite nearsighted, but refuses to wear glasses: she really only sees the world as a blur, and refuses clarity. It makes it easier for her to move inexorably forward with her plan -- even as her lack of seeing things clearly is also responsible for the ultimate tragedy of the story.
       Elle is manipulative, but not purely, evily so. Still, she finds it difficult to empathize -- as though worried her feelings might get in the way of her objective; the only person she develops a real understanding with is the aunt. She also knows which buttons to push to get what she wants -- while also being aware of how people will react (for example young Boo-Boo), allowing her to maintain the necessary distance (or proximity, in the case of some of her marks).
       One Deadly Summer is all slow, slow simmer -- and more simmer than burn. If the details of the revenge are left until near the conclusion, much is revealed early on: what Elle wants revenge for, as well as who she is targeting, are no great mysteries, from almost the start. So this is a novel of atmosphere and deep dives into character -- both of which Japrisot does well. But this is no quick thriller; it is a very long simmer .....

- M.A.Orthofer, 7 June 2018

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One Deadly Summer: Reviews: One Deadly Summer - the film: Other books by Sébastien Japrisot under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       French author Sébastien Japrisot (actually: Jean-Baptiste Rossi) lived 1931 to 2003.

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