The Red Notebook by Antoine Laurain

This is a lovely little book: a bittersweet romantic comedy that captivated me from the very first page.

A young woman, Laure, arrives home late at night, after dinner with friends. As she arrives at her apartment block somebody tries to snatch her handbag. She resists, but she is shoved against the door frame and her bag slips from her grasp.

She can’t get through the security door without her keys; she can’t call anyone because she relied on the mobile phone in her bag to remember their numbers; and she can’t get anywhere or do anything without the cash or cards in the purse in her handbag.

It was fortunate that the manager of the hotel across the road saw her very real distress and offered her a room and a bed for the night. Everything could be sorted out in the morning. Except it wouldn’t be that simple.

23129712The next day a bookseller, Laurent, sees the bag sitting on top of a rubbish bin. He recognises that it is a very good bag, not the kind of bag that would be casually discarded, and so he picks it up to hand in at the police station. But he found it wouldn’t be that easy. He was too early and would have to wait for an hour, and then there would be forms to complete and questions to be answered. Laurent couldn’t wait; he had a shop to open and so he left, intending to do something about the bag later.

In the end he decided that he would examine the contents of the bag and see of he could find the owner himself. Of course the purse, the keys and the phone were gone but there were things that could be helpful; a keyring with a hieroglyph, a dry-cleaners ticket, and a novel, personally signed to ‘Laure’ by the author.

And he found a red notebook, that the owner had used to scribble all sorts of notes. He felt rather guilty, reading something so personal, but he hoped that he might find a stronger clue to the identity of the bag, and the more he read the more he realised he really wanted to now her.

Laurent’s efforts to find Laure had results; he found her home, he met her cat, but Laure wasn’t there.

There are more twists in the tale – some predictable and some not – before it reaches exactly the right ending.

This is a story that screams ‘FILM ME!’ I can see it, I really can.

The setting, a lightly romanticised Paris – including a lovely, lovely bookshop – is lovely.

I liked the people. The two leads were nicely balanced, and they were well supported by a jealous girlfriend, an opinionated teenage daughter, a helpful colleague …. It’s a very well balanced cast.

There are lovely details: literary references – that I must confess I didn’t know well enough to know how significant they were; Laure had an interesting occupation; and she had a lovely cat who had a small but significant part to play.

The story is a little contrived, of course it is, but it works well and it does come from the characters; their actions and their emotions.

It works beautifully, as the most charming of entertainments.

I was engaged, and I cared, from start to finish.

The President’s Hat by Antoine Laurain

“If you want to get ahead get a hat”

It’s a play on words, used as an advertising slogan in the UK in the 1940s. It would seem that those words struck a chord, as they remain in the public consciousness to this day. Maybe that’s because they’re true.

They certainly were in Paris, in 1986.

Daniel Mercier was an accountant, with a career that was solid but not spectacular.

One evening, when his wife and child were away, he decided that he would treat himself to a lovely meal and a good bottle of wine at a smart brassiere. While he eating a man sat down on the banquette next to him: Daniel was amazed to find himself sitting alongside President Mitterrand, who was dining with a couple of associates.

Daniel was thrilled: he would have a wonderful memory and a fine tale to tell!

The Presidents HatWhen the presidential party left the president left his hat behind. Nobody noticed, and so Daniel tried it on. The president’s hat! He rather liked it and so he walked out of the restaurant wearing it.

And then his whole life seems to changed. He was more confident at work, more ready to speak out, and he impressed his colleagues and his superiors. He won a fine promotion.

But then Daniel lost the hat.

A young woman writer found it. She tried it on, she rather liked it, and as there was no sign of the owner she kept it. The hat gave her the confidence to change her life, but then she lost it.

Somebody else picked it up, their life changed, and then they lost the hat. And so it went on.

Daniel was the only one who knew where the hat had come from, and so he was the only one who chased it. That tied the stories together, making this a proper novel with a beginning, a middle and an end, rather than a series of linked stories.

The story of the president’s hat says much about what many things. Big things. Love, work, creativity, recovery, hope, politics …. It says that  small things, random chances, can change the course of a life.  And it says that you really should reach out for your dream.

But, of course, the big question is this: does the power lie within the hat, or does it simply awaken the power in each individual who wears it. That question stays up in the air, but I know what I think.

The setting – Paris nearly thirty years ago – was perfect. Long enough ago to be nostalgic, recent enough to be familiar, and could you really imagine this story anywhere else but Paris?

I found it very easy to keep turning pages. The style was light and bright, the stories were charming, and I always wanted to know what was happen enough.

There was just enough substance, just enough to think about.

And the ending was perfect.