I discovered Sebastien Japrisot’s ‘Trap for Cinderella’ through the book ‘One Hundred Great French Books’ by Lance Donaldson-Evans. When I read the two-page essay by Donaldson-Evans on Japrisot’s book, I decided that I had to read it. Japrisot’s book was out of print and so after a while I searched for and got a used copy (used copies of two editions were available, one was a 1979 edition and another was a 1997 edition. I got the first one. It gave me goosebumps to hold a book which was nearly thirty-five years old and which looked quite good. If I had had that book for five years, it would have looked worse.) I finished reading it a few days back. Here is what I think.
‘Trap for Cinderella’ is one of those books which should be read directly without the reader having any idea what the story is about. Because the book starts with a blank slate and we alongwith the heroine get to know each detail slowly, the first revelation follows suddenly, and we are surprised as much as the heroine is. Any review – even a one sentence one – will reveal some element of the plot and spoil the joy that one gets out of the book. But I have to also say that I wouldn’t have got the book, if I hadn’t read the essay by Donaldson-Evans, which revealed part of the plot, without revealing the surprises. So, it is a tough thing to decide – should we read a review and then decide to read the book or should we read a book directly without reading anything about it? In some cases like this book, I think it is better to read the book without reading anything about it. But then the question arises on how would one discover this book, if one didn’t read a review or atleast the book’s blurb? It is really a chicken-and-egg story without any convincing answer.
With the above caveat, I am going to tell you about the book now. Everything which is written here is more or less a spoiler. I won’t reveal the ending, but will give a general summary of the book. But even the name of the heroine would be a potential spoiler and so please be forewarned.
A young woman wakes up in a hospital one day. She has got burns on her face and her hands. It looks like she has been in a fire accident but has somehow survived. She has forgotten everything that has happened. She doesn’t remember her name, where she is from, who her parents are, who her friends are, where she works – nothing. The doctor who takes care of her, tells her a little bit about what happened. He says that her name is Michele and she is twenty years old and she was caught in a fire accident in a beach house with her friend. And her friend died in the fire. He also says that her family friend and childhood governess Jeanne identified her after the fire and will come and visit her soon. The doctor also says that she might remember all the events soon because the amnesia she has is rarely seen in young patients and would be mostly temporary. Jeanne comes one day and takes Michele from the hospital to her house. Jeanne tells her more about what happened. She tells her about her friend Domenica who died in the fire. Then some surprising things happen. Michele realizes that whatever she knows is what was told to her by others – by the doctor and by Jeanne and by the pictures and letters that people show her. She doesn’t remember a thing. The only truth that can be gleaned with the information available is that there was a fire at a beach house and two young women got caught in it and one of them died and another survived with amnesia. The rest is all surmise. This leads to some troubling questions. What if she is not really Michele but is Domenica? And something leads her to believe that the fire itself was not an accident and was planned. Was it planned murder? The plot thickens. Is ‘Michele’ able to find the truth about her identity? Is she really Michele or Domenica? What is her relationship with the other girl identified as ‘Domenica’? What is her relationship with Jeanne? Was the fire accidental or was it planned? If it was planned who planned the fire to kill whom? And why? The answers to all these questions form the rest of the story.
‘Trap for Cinderella’ is a page turner. It is not very thick – the edition I read had 171 pages – but I read it slowly and enjoyed reading each page and passage and sentence. The revelations come slowly and suddenly. There are just three main characters in the story – Michele, Domenica and Jeanne – and a few minor ones. And most of the story is told from Michele’s (if she is indeed Michele) point of view. We see the story and the world through an amnesiac’s eyes and mind and it is quite surprising and scary. The mystery gets revealed in the last page, but there are some open questions which are still not answered. I want to read the book or atleast some parts of it again to find out whether the ending is the real ending or it is just a façade while the real truth is revealed through the clues, open questions and the subtext. I also learnt one new thing from this novel – that the French word for Cinderella was Cendrillon :)
‘Trap for Cinderella’ won the crime fiction prize in France (Grand Prix de la Littérature Policère) when it was first published and I am sure it was a well deserved winner. It is a noir thriller, which holds its own when compared with the best works of James Cain and James Hadley Chase. It is a masterful exhibition of what can be done with just a few characters in a crime novel, and a masterclass in crime fiction writing.
I don’t think I have read any crime novel this year, but I am hoping to read some later this year. However, I have no hesitation in saying that ‘Trap for Cinderella’ is and will be one of my favourite crime novels of the year – probably one of my favourite crime novels of all time. It was made into a movie too, and I want to watch that some time. If you can get hold of a copy of this book, do read it.
Have you read ‘Trap for Cinderella’? What do you think about it?