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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Lady in the Car
with Glasses and a Gun

Sébastien Japrisot

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To purchase The Lady in the Car with Glasses and a Gun

Title: The Lady in the Car with Glasses and a Gun
Author: Sébastien Japrisot
Genre: Novel
Written: 1966 (Eng. 1967)
Length: 240 pages
Original in: French
Availability: The Lady in the Car with Glasses and a Gun - US
The Lady in the Car with Glasses and a Gun - UK
The Lady in the Car with Glasses and a Gun - Canada
La dame dans l'auto avec des lunettes et un fusil - Canada
La dame dans l'auto avec des lunettes et un fusil - France
Porträt einer Dame im Auto mit Brille und Gewehr - Deutschland
La signora dell'auto con gli occhiali e un fucile - Italia
  • French title: La dame dans l'auto avec des lunettes et un fusil
  • Translated by Helen Weaver
  • The Lady in the Car with Glasses and a Gun has been filmed twice, in 1970 (directed by Anatole Litvak and starring Samantha Eggar and Oliver Reed) and 2015 (directed by Joann Sfar and starring Freya Mavor)

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Our Assessment:

B+ : maybe over-thought and -developed, but a hell of a ride

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Guardian . 19/7/2019 Laura Wilson
Sunday Times A 17/3/1968 Edmund Crispin
The Times . 30/5/1998 AL
TLS . 16/5/1968 .

  From the Reviews:
  • "Far-fetched but utterly captivating, this is a perfect diversion for a sunny afternoon." - Laura Wilson, The Guardian

  • "The last section tells us what really did happen, and how, and why; and there is terror in it, as well as an extraordinary thoroughness. Not for M. Japrisot the thin intimations which have characterised most modern French crime-writing: his story is detailed, substantial, full-blooded. It combines huge intellectual grasp with fascinating narrative, strong grues, fine writing (the translation, by the way, is quite admirable) and an unforgettable protagonist. (...) The Lady in the Car, his third crime novel, rates as a superb achievement." - Edmund Crispin, Sunday Times

  • "The final solution is too ingenious for belief; up to that point the story is gripping, and the heroine sympathetic." - Times Literary Supplement

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 Lady in the Car with Glasses and a Gun may be an unwieldy title, but neatly sums up much of the essential in the novel -- which is then divided into four parts, titled: 'The Lady', 'The Car', 'The Glasses', and 'The Gun'. The lady is Dany Longo, who narrates the first and the third parts of the novel -- and warns early on: "I have lied all my life"; appropriately enough for one who claims to be given to lying, she works in a Paris advertising agency.
       Dany suggests: "My legal age is twenty-six, my mental age eleven or twelve", and the confused distress of the early parts of her account might seem to support that, but it is probably more accurate to say that she is emotionally immature and stunted -- in no small part because of a difficult childhood that saw her raised in an orphanage, with a later trauma not helping matters. Her account begins with a bizarre attack on her in a gas station restroom; she isn't robbed of anything, or violated -- beyond a violent injury inflicted on her hand. Among the first things she says in her account is: "I'm not crazy, someone or something attacked me", and she repeats the claim that she is not crazy several times -- as if needing to reässure herself as much as anyone else. The people at the gas station certainly think she's not quite thinking straight: not only do not they not think it possible someone attacked her in the restroom, but the injury, however fresh it seems, is one they saw before.
       Dany doesn't help herself or her story with the fact that she does have a bit of a guilty conscience. She's on a bit of an escapade -- but her trip is quickly turning into a confusing nightmare of not quite déjà vu, circumstances that suggest greater guilt -- enough for her to worry about what to do if she is arrested, and to admit that whatever story she tells: "It won't be altogether the truth". Right from the start, Japrisot positions Dany as an unreliable narrator -- but the question of what sort of unreliable narrator (mad ? conniving ? innocent ?) remains open. And, while her account is certainly confused, and confusing -- the sequence of events and many of its details seem, to both her and reader, practically impossible -- the question of just how far from the truth/reality it is remains open (and, yes, Japrisot utilizes this uncertainty cleverly and effectively).
       The story is set basically over a long weekend around the French 14 July national holiday, the opening scene already well into the story, with Dany then returning to the beginning, explaining how she got to that gas station restroom. It began back at work, where Dany had been asked by her boss, Michel Caravaille, to type up fifty pages he is desperately in need of for the next day, when he's flying off to Geneva, where he is supposed to meet an important client. He offered her extra money to get the job done -- and arranged for her to do it in the comfort of his home; she could even sleep over if she didn't finish that night, and then complete the work in the morning.
       Caravaille is married to Anita, whose secretary Dany had been at another agency, and the thought of seeing Anita again helps tip the scales for Dany. Caravaille drives her to the home, she settles in to do the work while the couple go out in the evening, and the next day Dany drives to the airport with them, to see them off and drive the car she has been told is Anita's Thunderbird back to the house. Dany does have a driver's license -- they'd seen to it at the orphanage, that she get one -- but is a little overwhelmed by the huge, fancy car. But Caravaille insisted that she drive it back to the house .....
       So far, so good -- except that Dany likes the feel of all that horsepower and succumbs to the temptations of the long weekend ahead. With the grand vehicle at her disposal the lure of the sea is too great, and off she sets on her joyride ..... Feeling guilty, occasionally, and a bit worried that her taking the car will be noticed by Caravaille -- but, given that the family is supposed to be away until the next week, she doesn't think she has too much to worry about.
       Boy, is she wrong.
       The first three parts of the novel describe Dany's odyssey -- and it is an odyssey, she drives a great deal but also even loses the car at one point (but regains possession of it soon enough). She meets a man setting out on his own adventures, who takes advantage of her situation -- but she also proves quite capable of handling him, for the most part. The odd and disturbing thing is that she keeps encountering people who recognize her as just having passed through. There's the coat she forgot, the policeman who stops her, even the hotel where she was registered the night before. Typically, too, she finds herself in situations she can't explain -- but, with little other choice, she goes with the flow:

     "You're wanted on the the telephone."
     "Me ?"
     "You are Mademoiselle Longo, aren't you ?"
     Since nothing else made sense, I don't know why I was surprised any more.
       The unsettling -- unmooring -- not-quite-déjà vu she (re?)lives is disturbing enough, but it gets worse, as she eventually finds the Thunderbird came with some extra baggage ..... Not only does she find herself implicated in a murder, she finds she's apparently well-acquainted with the victim. She has no recollection whatsoever of that, but the evidence is overwhelming: in his house: "I searched in other rooms and found myself everywhere", her clothes scattered about. And then there's the bedroom, where there hangs a large photograph of a nude:
This girl was not sitting across an armchair, but standing with her back to the camera, with the top of her body and her face turned toward the lens. It was not Anita, Caravaille, or anyone else whom I could saddle with the burden of my own life. It was me.
       Has she blacked out so much of her past ? It seems distinctly possible -- there's obviously a lot that she'd prefer to forget. But this hits awfully close to home.
       Yet Dany's impetuous go-with-the-flow (no matter how surprising) attitude proves also to be her one lifeline. As someone who had hoped to take advantage of her complains:
I had foreseen everything, Dany, everything. What I still did not know and what I was to learn until it drove me mad was that not a single one of your reactions cane be foreseen.
       That's a big part of the fun of the novel: that there's an elaborate plot beneath, which (oblivious to it) Dany is inextricably mixed up in but also rides, mostly unknowingly, roughshod over. But that's also the one problem with the novel -- man, is there an elaborate plot at work here, and it takes almost then entire fourth part, nearly a fifth of the novel, to walk everyone through it, as it is explained detail by detail. Japrisot does this reasonably well -- laying out the actual plan (previously hidden (in plain sight) from Dany and the reader's view), as well as how it can't stay quite on the rails -- but exposition of this sort is tough to pull of in a crime novel (though perhaps still preferable to any alternative presentation Japrisot could have gone with).
       Japrisot relies on and plays with an unreliable, unmoored narrator -- always a difficult balancing act. Mostly, it works quite well here, though the ultimate neatness of it all feels a bit forced. Arguably, it is all a bit too clever by half (and/or ultimately over-complicated), but there's no question that The Lady in the Car with Glasses and a Gun is an reasonably satisfying thriller, exciting along the way with its turns -- baffling though some of these seem -- and with everything neatly resolved and tied up in the end. Japrisot is a very solid thriller writer, and he doesn't disappoint here.

- M.A.Orthofer, 18 October 2019

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The Lady in the Car with Glasses and a Gun: Reviews: The Lady in the Car with Glasses and a Gun - the films: 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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