I have to admit I was a little sceptical about The President’s Hat. I thought it might be a tad whimsical for me but it turns out to be an absolute delight from start to finish. It begins with an accountant, a little out of sorts with his job, treating himself to a solitary meal in a brasserie. Just as he is tucking into his plateau royal de fruits de mer, François Mitterrand takes the seat alongside him and begins a conversation with his ex-Foreign Minister sitting opposite. Daniel is thrilled. After Mitterrand has left he collects himself and his belongings only to find that the President has left his hat behind. Rather taken with it, Daniel decides to wear the hat and next day he finds the courage to stand up to his irritating boss. When he forgets to pick it up on a train a young woman on her way to an assignation finds the hat and with it the courage to break off her dead-end affair. Recognising its power, she leaves the hat on a park bench and watches as an elderly man picks it up, sniffs it and puts it on his head. Pierre Aslan, a perfumier, recovers his celebrated nose but loses the hat in a restaurant where Bernard Lavallière, a disenchanted member of the French upper classes, picks it up thinking it to be his own and suddenly finds his inner socialist. Eventually, and satisfyingly, the hat comes full circle. There’s a nice little moral, as there is in all fables, which becomes clear at the end of the hat’s journey.
Gallic Press have done a superb job in the production of The President’s Hat – there’s even an integral bookmark in its jacket. Unusually, the translation is attributed to them and each of the team gets a credit at the end of the book. It’s a technique which works extraordinarily well, giving each individual character and their story a distinct voice. This is a book for summer reading lists, that’s for sure, but the best time to read it would be a wet British weekend when you’re badly in need of cheering up. The Reading Agency has come up with a two brilliant lists of mood-boosting books as an aid to treating depression – I hope they’ll include this joyful, optimistic often very funny book on their next list.