Title: The President’s Hat (Le Chapeau de Mitterand)
Author: Antoine Laurain – play spot the hat!
Publisher: Gallic Books – specialist in translated works.
Publication Date: 28th March 2013.
Stand alone or Series? Stand alone
Why did I choose to read this book? I love Belgravia Bookshop which is owned by Gallic Books and this story took my fancy. It also didn’t hurt that it was a signed edition AND the cover included a serrated section that tore off to become a bookmark! (NB: All book covers should have this!)
Refreshments: As mentioned a picnic is my choice for this book. So if you heed my advice and head to Paris then it will be pretty easy to pick up: a baguette, cheese, cured meats, salad and a bottle of crisp white Muscadet wine.
‘Objects pass from hand to hand but people and perfumes remain’
It’s 1986 and officer worker Daniel Mercier faced with dinner alone decides to treat himself to a slap up meal in a Parisian brasserie. Seated at the banquet bottle of Pouilly-Fumé in hand seafood platter on the way he is shocked when President Francois Mitterand enters and occupies the seat next to him. After dragging his oysters out for as long as he can Mercier watches as Mitterand leaves the restaurant without his hat. Emboldened by the wine Mercier swiftly snatches the hat inadvertently setting off a chain of unexpected life events for the people of Paris.
After reading the jacket of this book, I was surprised to find that it wasn’t just about the life of Daniel Mercier, but in fact a collection of short stories deftly woven together by a felt hat. When Daniel leaves the hat on the train it is discovered by a woman on her way to meet her lover, the hat then meets a perfumer and later a right-wing city gent. We are introduced to each of the characters when they are at a stage in their lives where they need something to boost their morale and for them the hat translates into that strength. Although initially surprised I actually loved this style, with each episode offering a snapshot into the lives of very different people.
My favourite story concerns Aslan, a retired perfumer who finds that hat on a park bench. At the time of finding the hat he is dealing with a 6-year bout of depression and although he has a loving wife and son he sees no way out of the darkness. However, with the hat on his head things begin to change, slowly at first with the simple shaving of his beard, yet culminating in him finding himself and re-embracing life. The book is consistently optimistic in its tone, leaving you with the feeling that whatever the situation one eventuality can change your luck, especially when you aren’t looking for it.
In addition, after living in France for a year, and making many a trip to Paris whilst there, I have always loved French fiction and translations, not to mention the culture and lifestyle of the people. In his book Laurain manages to instil the whimsical and bright feeling of Paris, as well as the’ distinctive ‘devil may care’ attitude of the French – who cares that Mercier drinks a bottle of wine then gets behind the wheel? Plus, the historical details of the 1980’s regarding the politics as well as the architecture, in terms of the Louvre’s glass pyramid, were also woven in beautifully to give greater depth to the story.
Although, this book is really easy to read, it doesn’t detract from the fact that it is immensely enjoyable and leaves you with a spring in your step and a smile on your face.
Rating: 8.5 out of 10.