July 6, 2016

The President's Hat,for Paris in July

      Nothing remained but the empty plates, the cutlery, the glasses and the barely crumpled white napkins. Now it was just a table like any other, thought Daniel. In a few minutes, the dishes would be cleared away, the tablecloth refreshed, and a new diner would settle himself onto the banquette for the second sitting, never suspecting that the President of the Republic had occupied the very same seat less than an hour earlier. ...
      Daniel swallowed his last mouthful of Pouilly and put his glass back on the table. The dinner had been unreal -- and he could so easily have missed it. He could have decided to go home and  make his own supper, he could have chosen a different brasserie, there might not have been a free table, the customer who'd booked the table might not have cancelled ... The important events in our lives are always the result of a sequence of tiny details.  The thought made him feel slightly dizzy -- or was it the fact that he'd drunk a whole bottle of Pouilly-Fuisse?
       He closed his eyes for a few seconds, breathed deeply, shifted his shoulder and massaged his neck. As he raised his left hand to do this, Daniel reached the brass rail at the top of the banquette. His fingers encountered the cold metal, and then something else as well. Something soft and yielding, something that had squirmed, like the oyster ...
I read Antoine Laurain's second novel, The Red Notebook, for Paris in July last year, and loved it, and planned from that moment on to read this one this year.  It starts from a little of the same kind of quirky event; here, heading home from work on a day when his wife and son are away on a visit,  Daniel Mercier, a finance executive in a large (and vague) corporation, decides to treat himself again to the plateau royal des fruits de mer at a bistro he has visited once before with his family.  Three men arrive at the next table, and to his great surprise, one of them is the French president, Francois Mitterand, who leaves his hat behind.

Daniel can't resist taking the hat with him, and as he wears it, things begin to change. As they do when he leaves it behind on the train, and Fanny, the mistress of a married man, takes it with her to wear in a sudden rainstorm.  Daniel is devestated, and as he tries to find the hat again, it passes on to other Parisians -- Pierre Aslan, a gifted perfume designer who has lost his skill, and Bernard, a middle-aged and never-before-rebellious member of a rigid Parisian social circle. All along, Daniel keeps searching, and as it turns out, so does someone else.  

There's great charm again, in this book, and the flavor of Paris, especially in restaurants. :)  But it's also a political fable of sorts, I think, and that was a little harder to really appreciate, especially since the book (written in 2012) is set in the 1980s. C'est la vie. I did definitely enjoy it, if not quite as much, and it was a lovely quick read to begin Paris in July.

Are you joining in this year?  What are you going to read?

{To add a little more of Paris, I found this image by Andre Renoux,
an artist who evokes it  so beautifully for me ... I wrote about him here.
There were some new images in this gallery, too, ones that I don't
remember seeingbefore, so that was an extra pleasure.}

The President's Hat, by Antoine Laurain
Gallic Books, 2013
Source:  Minuteman Library Network


Lory said...

I read this book last year, on the plane to Switzerland, in a sort of unplanned Paris-in-July serendipity. I liked it, but I think I might like The Red Notebook better. Right now I'm reading Girl in the Afternoon and really enjoying it, and I also want to read The Life of Elves by Muriel Barbery. Have a wonderful month a la Francaise!

Nadia A said...

I love this book, too! It is simply the best! So whimsical and fun. I'm a huge fan of Laurain because of it now. I read The Red Notebook and fell even more in love with his writing. He has a new one being published in English later this year that I can't wait to read! Its called French Rhapsody. Great post!!