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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Three Days and a Life

Pierre Lemaitre

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To purchase Three Days and a Life

Title: Three Days and a Life
Author: Pierre Lemaitre
Genre: Novel
Written: 2016 (Eng. 2017)
Length: 199 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Three Days and a Life - US
Three Days and a Life - UK
Three Days and a Life - Canada
Trois jours et une vie - Canada
Trois jours et une vie - France
Drei Tage und ein Leben - Deutschland
Tre giorni e una vita - Italia
Tres días y una vida - España
  • French title: Trois jours et une vie
  • Translated by Frank Wynne
  • Three Days and a Life was made into a film in 2019, directed by Nicolas Boukhrief and starring Sandrine Bonnaire

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Our Assessment:

B : solid guilt-ridden thriller

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Les Echos . 24/3/2016 Thierry Gandillot
The Guardian . 5/8/2017 Barry Forshaw
Le Temps . 8/4/2016 Lisbeth Koutchoumoff
The Times . 22/7/2017 Marcel Berlins

  From the Reviews:
  • "En quelques traits, il campe ses personnages et les installe dans ce village où tout le monde connaît tout le monde. Il sait tenir son suspense et possède l'art du judoka pour renverser les situations." - Thierry Gandillot, Les Echos

  • "This is typically astringent and accomplished fare" - Barry Forshaw, The Guardian

  • "Impeccable de justesse, Trois Jours et une vie tient le lecteur en haleine. L’intrigue est malgré tout trop resserrée pour en faire un ouvrage qui marque. En-cas signé par un excellent romancier, le livre laisse sur sa faim." - Lisbeth Koutchoumoff, Le Temps

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:

       Three Days and a Life is a three-part thriller, the long first section set around Christmas, 1999; a considerably shorter second part in the summer and fall of 2011; and then a very short coda-section, revealing where all the pieces have fallen, set in 2015.
       It is the events that take place over just a few days in 1999 that shape, mark, and haunt the protagonist. Antoine Courtain is twelve at the time, living in provincial Beauval with his mother; his father abandonded them and they barely remain in contact. It's the kind of small town where: "everyone in the neighborhood knew everyone else". Among Antoine's schoolmates is the son of the mayor, Théo Weiser -- "the dunce of the class", but a group-leader, with whom Antoine doesn't get along very well -- as well as the beautiful Émilie Mouchottes, whom: "it was impossible to say no to".
       The next-door neighbors of the Courtains are the Desmedts. The Desmedt children aren't the right age to really be close to Antoine -- fifteen-year-old Valentine already works as a trainee hairdresser, while six-year-old Rémi, though an ardent follower of Antoine, is too young to properly play with. But the Desmedts also have a dog, Ulysses, which Antoine likes to take with him on his outings (his mother won't let him have a pet of his own).
       Ulysses' tragic end hits Antoine hard, and in lashing out he unintentionally kills Rémi. In his panic, he hides the body -- but, of course, feels incredibly guilty, and is certain his misdeed will quickly be discovered. And he loses his distinctive watch in the process .....
       It doesn't take long for the alarm to be raised about the young boy -- and even for Antoine to be identified as among the last to see him -- but circumstances allow for the body to remain undiscovered, the disappearance to remain a mystery. Antoine remains certain he will be caught, and considers a variety of drastic actions, such as running away, but a catastrophic winter storm of biblical proportions ensures that Rémi's body is unlikely to be soon discovered -- and between that and the local economic worries, attention is almost immediately diverted from the case of the missing boy. The boy's resting place -- and the case -- then remain dormant for more than a decade.
       Antoine, of course, remains guilt-ridden, always worried about his secret being discovered. Immediately, too, he is determined to get away from Beauval as soon as he can. Forever, if possible.
       Jumping ahead to 2011 we find Antoine did make good his escape -- even convincing his mother to send him to boarding school, so he could get away as soon as possible. Meanwhile, he's now nearing completion of his medical studies, and has found Laura, the love of his life, a woman whom he can share his passions with -- and one who, like him, doesn't want to have children. Still perhaps not having gotten enough distance between him and his past, he and Laura plan to go abroad to do humanitarian work once they've gotten their medical degrees. But mom still lives in Beauval, and so Antoine can't help but occasionally return -- as he also does in 2011.
       There he encounters his old schoolmates who have stayed put, including Théo and an also engaged Émilie. And Antoine lets himself get a bit carried away, and makes a fateful -- if, in the moment, seemingly inconsequential -- blast-into-the-past slip. Beyond that, there's also the news that the site where he knows Rémi's body still lies hidden is finally being redeveloped, which Antoine realizes means that the investigation will take on new urgency -- and his role likely discovered. Indeed, the body is soon discovered, and the press and police take up the case much more actively again .....
       Racked by guilt all these years, Antoine has never fully been able to escape his deed -- but he was lucky once in avoiding getting fingered for his crime. Will he be lucky again ?
       'Lucky' isn't exactly the word for how it works out for Antoine, as Lemaitre offers an amusing twist on the morality tale. Certainly guilt is inescapable; beyond that, it's just a question of the punishment -- and Lemaitre has good fun in spinning out Antoine's.
       It makes for a solid little thriller, nicely, cruelly turned at its end -- though Lemaitre can't quite match the darkly comic sharp, spare bleakness of a Pascal Garnier. Small-town life and its characters are quite well-drawn -- including in revealing some unexpected ties, behind-some-scenes activity, and difficult decisions (with lasting effects) -- and while the devastation wrought by the megastorms seems almost too convenient and good to be true, the storms were real ones, the one-two punch of the 1999 "twin cyclones" Lothar and Martin.

- M.A.Orthofer, 27 November 2017

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Three Days and a Life: Reviews: Three Days and a Life - the movie: Other books by Pierre Lemaitre under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       French author Pierre Lemaitre was born in 1951.

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© 2017-2022 the complete review

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