The Red Notebook by Antoine Laurain (transl. Jane Aitkin and Emily Boyce): A sweet indulgence

Cover imageBack in 2013 I was sent a copy of The President’s Hat. I wasn’t at all sure about it – a bit too much of the whimsy for me it seemed – but it turned out to be one of my favourite books of that year. Not a literary masterpiece but clever, witty and uplifting. So, when I heard that another of Antoine Laurain’s novels had been translated you can imagine my expectations were high. Did the book live up to them? Well, perhaps they were a little too high.

Coming home one morning, in the early hours, Laure is mugged – her stylish handbag, filled with precious irreplaceable things, ripped from her arm. She fights back but is dashed to the ground and hits her head, only managing to get up when the thief is well beyond her reach. What to do? Her keys are gone, along with her money. She manages to persuade the night porter of a local hotel to let her stay there but the next day is taken to hospital, unconscious. Meanwhile, Laurent, a bookseller – divorced but of a similar age – finds an abandoned handbag and takes it to his local gendarmerie where they’re far too busy to deal with the problem but make a few helpful suggestions. Laurent takes the bag home and looks through its contents, a little squeamish at examining a stranger’s private possessions. In it are a red notebook, some photographs, lip balm, a recipe, a few pebbles, a dry cleaner’s ticket for a dress and a signed copy of Accident Nocturne by the notoriously reclusive Patrick Modiano, to name but a few of the capacious bag’s contents. As he examines these, hoping for clues to their owner’s identity, Laurent begins to feel an affinity with her. He wants to give the bag back but with no name and address what’s he to do?

I suspect no one will be surprised by The Red Notebook’s ending but the fun is in how we get there. Laurent proves himself ingenious in his attempts to track Laure down. There are some delightful bookselling passages and a great cameo featuring Patrick Modiano.  The novel ventures once or twice into darker territory but this is a book of sweet indulgence, something to curl up with when you need a bit of cheering up.

A quick scan of the comments below will show you that Claire from Word by Word can share some light on that Modiano connection, and if you’d like to read her review of The Red Notebook replete with a picture of a luscious handbag just click here.

8 thoughts on “The Red Notebook by Antoine Laurain (transl. Jane Aitkin and Emily Boyce): A sweet indulgence”

  1. I think this will be a delightful escapist read to alternate with some of my heavier books. I’ve been meaning to get my hands on it, but may decide to read it in French.

    1. Susan Osborne

      That sounds like a good idea, Marina. It’s the kind of book that gives you a two-hour respite from real life, or gritty fictional life.

    1. Susan Osborne

      That’s exactly what it is, Poppy. Please get yourself to a bookshop and buy The President’s Hat immediately!

    1. Susan Osborne

      You can probably tell that it didn’t quite match The President’s Hat for me, Fleur, but I think that was a tall order! I’m sure you’ll enjoy this one. It’s has some lovely moments in it.

  2. I adored this, it arrived in the midst of a terrible flu back in Feb and was the only thing I could hold up in front of me and it definitely lifted the spirits and made me laugh.

    I pondered the Patrick Modiano connection, articularly as he had just won the Noble Prize for Literature, wondering if this had been written before, after, at the same time – and then recently read a review of one of his books which then made me wonder if the Modiano mention was in fact a reference to his novel Dora Bruder, in which Modiano stumbles across an ad from 1941 (in 1988) about a missing Jewish girl and becomes obsessed with finding out everything he can about her. Sounds familiar doesn’t it?

    I did find it amusing to see how the covers are presented, I mean this is a romantic comedy if it was a film and perhaps chick lit in a book, but written by a French male author, it looks nothing like being cast in that genre.

    Well, now I look forward to The President’s Hat even more!

    1. Susan Osborne

      The perfect read for a bout of ‘flu, Claire! And thanks for the Patrick Modiano reference – fascinating, and I’m sure you’re right about the nature of the connection. What an elegant way of acknowledging it! I do hope you won’t wait until you’re laid low again for The President’s Hat.

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