The Red Notebook by Antoine Laurain tr. Emily Boyce and Jane Aitken

CIMG7179Antoine Laurain is the French author of five novels, including The President’s Hat, a novel that has found a popular and loyal following in the US and UK since being translated into English by Gallic Books.

Not serious literature, they’re the kind of books you reach for when you need something uplifting and entertaining. I reached for this one at the end of winter when in the grip of a terrible flu and found it the best medicine of all!

A Selection of Word by Word notebooks.

A Selection of Word by Word notebooks.

Intrigued and incensed in equal measure, as a notebook toting woman myself, I wanted to know more of this story centred around a character whose red notebook, containing handwritten thoughts and random PRIVATE jottings, has fallen into the hands of the curious bookseller, Monsieur Laurent Letellier.

Recognising it as a handbag of quality and not something intended to be thrown out, when Monsieur Letellier comes across the abandoned handbag on a Parisian street early one morning, he picks it up intending to hand it in at the police station, which he almost succeeds in doing, except, you know, French bureaucracy, it will require a one hour wait and he has a shop to open up, so plans to return later. Only later becomes much, much later and the police station is not where he will return it to.

mauve handbagThe bag belongs to Laure, a woman we meet in the opening pages as she clutches her handbag to her detriment, metres from her apartment, only to be shoved against a metal door frame, losing the bag anyway. Without keys, and despite it being 2am, she manages to check into the hotel opposite, promising to pay in the morning, by which time she will have fallen into a coma.

Once the bag comes home with the bookseller, it becomes a major temptation and much of the book is spent on various dilemmas arising as a consequence of his inaction, which in turn provoke memories of past events. The longer it stays with him, the more trouble it causes and the more intrigued he becomes by its owner, despite recognising his chances at redemption grow slimmer as each day passes.

Early morning in the Luxembourg gardens, Paris

Early morning in the Luxembourg gardens, Paris

One of the items the bookseller discovers is a signed copy of Accident Nocturne by Patrick Modiano which leads him to track down the reclusive author, known to frequent Luxembourg Gardens most mornings. As a bookseller, he knows how rare book signings by this author are, so hopes the author may lead him to the woman.

The Modiano cameo intrigued me, particularly as he’d just won The 2014 Nobel Prize for Literature, was that the reason to mention him, I wondered? And then I read Helen’s Mad About The Books review of Dora Bruder and found an even better reason for the reference to this esteemed author.

Paris Soir Dora BruderIn Dora Bruder, Modiano tells how in 1988 he stumbled across an ad in the personal columns of the 1941 New Year’s Eve edition of Paris Soir. The ad had been placed by the parents of 15-year-old Jewish girl Dora Bruder, who had run away from the Catholic boarding school where she’d been living.

It set the author off on an obsessive quest to find out everything he could about Dora Bruder and why during the most dangerous period of the German occupation of Paris, she had run away from those protecting her. But that’s another story and book, so see Helen’s review below for more on that extraordinary tale.

The Red Notebook has little of the hardship and tragedy of Dora Bruder, it reads more like a book that could be made into an entertaining romantic comedy, it has all the ingredients, the streets and bookshops of Paris, an artists’ workshop, handbags and their intriguing taboo contents, a jealous girlfriend and a lippy adolescent daughter. Watch this space I say!

Personally, I found it wonderful to discover an author who can do uplifting, feel good stories that push the right buttons for booklovers without becoming sentimental or too romantic. Of the ending isn’t realistic, but it was fun getting there.

If you like a glimpse of local life in Paris, characters who observe bookshelves and mention what others characters are reading, people who write in notebooks, the short form novella and an uplifting story, that could quite likely turn into a beautiful film, then keep an eye out for The Red Notebook.

Further Reading:

Review by Susan of A Life in Books  – The President’s Hat, Antoine Laurain

Review by Helen of Mad About the BooksDora Bruder, Patrick Modiano – translated into English by Joanna Kilmartin as The Search Warrant

Article by Antoine Laurain – On Patrick Modiano winning the 2014 Nobel Prize

dora Bruder

 

Note: This book was an ARC (Advance Reader Copy) kindly provided by the publisher, Gallic Books.

22 thoughts on “The Red Notebook by Antoine Laurain tr. Emily Boyce and Jane Aitken

  1. Really enjoyed review and like sound of the book – but as an avid notebook keeper am also now slightly paranoid wondering where they all are! ( not that there’s actually anything of real interest in them!)

    Liked by 1 person

      • Am probably a victim of too many man-bags! ( My daughter assured me that on a man my age they look ‘ridiculous’!) The down side is I tend to just start a new notebook every time I cant find a notebook and always assumed on a shelf, in a drawer or in a man-bag! Now, reading your review, I’m not so sure!

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  2. Claire, amazing because I’m writing about Modiano today/tomorrow on the blog, as I read him when in Paris. In the US Doris Bruder was published as The Search Warrant, and that’s one of the books I’m writing about, as well as Suspended Sentences. So glad you wrote about this. I love notebooks and journals, too, almost always carry one.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That is amazing Valorie and I can’t wait to read your post tomorrow .I’m really looking forward to reading Dora Bruder and thinking to go and get it in French from the library tomorrow. You did have an interesting time in Paris!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Lovely review, Claire. Sometimes we just need books like this to give us a lift! It’s interesting to hear of the connection to Patrick Modiano, too – I recall Helen’s review of Dora Bruder/The Search Warrant.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Isn’t it, I just saw an article Antoine Laurain wrote after Modiano won the Nobel Prize, it appears it was serendipitous, a homage to his work and respoect for his talent, written indeed before he won the great prize. I’mthinking i might try and read Dora Bruder in French, it’s easier for me to get hold of🙂

      This is a great title to have on the shelf when in need of something uplifting, they’re such a rare genre!

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  4. I’ve seen this book mentioned a lot online and have never remembered to look into it – so I’m really pleased you’re written about it! It sounds great. And I really want to read something by Patrick Modiano – translations of his books have only just now become reasonably available here in Australia, so I’ll finally get to read some!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I really hope you’ll find a copy to read Heather, it’s great. I’m going to lok for The President’s Hat and even thinking of reading Dora Bruder (The Search Warrant in English) in French since its not a long book and easier for me to get hold of at the local library. I don’t often read in French, but I should!

      Gallic Books just pointed out an article that Antoine Laurain wriote the day Patrick Modiano won the Noble Prize, I’m going to link it to my review, indeed he wrote The Red Notebook before Modiano won the prize. I just love what he says about him.

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  5. Enjoyed your review and look forward to enjoying this book. I too have notes, not notebooks, just notes I’ve kept about things that I’m now wondering where they all are. After a cross-country move 30+ years ago, who knows???

    Liked by 1 person

    • I also had travel diaries Sherrey with lots of reminiscings and lots of drawings I saw on my travels in Asia. I remember not knowing what to do with them one time when I relocated half way round the planet, from England to New Zealand. Were they safer in the boxes I was having shipped or in the suitcases I was travelling with via Los Angeles?

      I don’t remember what I decided, there were 5 precious diaries, but I never, ever saw them again. For a long time I was devastated, then I read a few more books by The Dalai Lama, Transforming the Mind is one particular title that comes to mind, one of the more helpful ones with teaching skills for letting go of attachments. Now I can tell the story without any suffering at all.🙂

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      • Hi Claire

        I wonder if some of your diaries are in a box with your name under the stairs!
        Great to read your review of this book which I so enjoyed reading while at your place and when ( not if!) it is made into a film, I will enjoy it again.

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    • Oh, I just love it when a review has that effect. Go on then Deborah, get a copy, and you might as well get The President’s Hat while your at it, I think they have a special deal on the two😉 The perfect gift too.

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