I was charmed by The President’s Hat, so I bought The Red Notebook when it was a cheap Kindle deal. It might just as well have been called Laure’s Handbag, as it’s also about finding a lost personal item, in this case a woman’s mauve handbag. The book begins with Laure being mugged on her doorstep and robbed of her bag. Not the sort of charm I was hoping for! Left without keys or money she seeks refuge at an hotel but by next morning the bang on the head she got from the mugger has taken effect and she’s carted off to hospital in a coma.
Laurent owns a bookshop called Le Cahier Rouge. He has an ex-wife and a precocious daughter called Chloe. On his walk to work he finds the mauve bag dumped on top of a rubbish bin and tries to hand it in at a police station. Finding that this will take hours of French bureaucracy, he eventually takes the bag home and goes through it. He knows perfectly well that this is odd as he’s never even looked in his wife’s bag, but he feels compelled to do it. In the bag is a red Moleskine notebook containing Laure’s thoughts, which obviously no one else is meant to read. All he learns from the bag is a Christian name and he starts to follow every possible clue to the bag’s owner, beginning with a dry cleaning ticket.
As his investigations continue, they do start to seem creepily close to stalking but we already think he’s quite a nice bloke and his daughter is around to keep things normal and in the end to ….no spoiler! This is a fairy tale, really; The Sleeping Beauty, perhaps. I enjoyed it very much and wished it were longer.
I read somewhere that The President’s Hat is ‘a charming book’, so I snagged it when it was Kindle deal of the day. It is indeed a charming book, a sort of Parisian fairy tale which I found too short.
A chap called Daniel Mercier is alone while his wife and son are on holiday. He decides to treat himself to a good meal in an expensive brasserie. The food and wine are even more expensive than he’d reckoned on, but good enough to be worth the money. Then an astonishing thing happens. François Mitterand sits down right next to him with two companions. Mercier earwigs like mad, planning to dine out on the event for years. After the presidential party has left, he sees that Mitterand has left his hat behind. He steals it.
Instead of calling over the head waiter to say self-importantly, ‘I think the customer at the table next to me has left his hat behind,’ and receiving obsequious thanks, Daniel acted on impulse. He felt as if he had a double and that another Daniel Mercier now stood in the middle of the dining room,
From that moment, his life changes. ‘Wearing a hat gives you a feeling of authority over someone who isn’t, he thought to himself.’ The very next morning he demolishes the arguments of his superior at work and gets himself promoted. Alas, travelling to begin his new job in Rouen, he leaves the hat on the train and it’s picked up by a young woman called Fanny Marquant. She too feels different when she wears the hat: ‘Donning the new accessory had made her feel somehow powerful; it had the same effect as the designer clothes she so rarely treated herself to.’ Fanny also changes her life for the better, then leaves the hat on a park bench, where it’s picked up by … You get the picture? In all, four people find and wear the hat and for each it’s a life changing experience. Meanwhile, Mercier is trying to track down the hat, little suspecting that – oops! no spoiler.
The hat has the initials FM in the band. ‘So who was this F.M.? If only he knew what a chain of events his felt Homburg had set in motion.’ Who indeed? This book is partly a portrait of Mitterand; it was published in France as Le chapeau de Mitterand. Unusually, Amazon are selling it in the original French on their UK site. The year is 1986. Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and Helmut Kohl are the great figures of the time. There’s a lot of social and political comment which I found both interesting and amusing, quite apart from the four individual stories. The main point is of course, why did these things happen? Can an iconic item belonging to a powerful figure confer magical powers on another owner? I absolutely loved this book. It’s for you if you liked The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, or if you find Candide funny. Laurin is no Voltaire but he has written a delightful book.