The President’s Hat
Author: Antoine Laurain
Translators: Jane Aitken,
& Louise Rogers Lalaurie
Publisher: Gallic Books
US Release date: September 2013
Le Chapeau de Mitterrand
was first released in French in 2012
also available as ebook
Genre: literary fiction
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MY THOUGHTS ABOUT THIS BOOK
At BEA, I received a copy of Antoine Laurain’s upcoming book, French Rhapsody. Having heard so much about Antoine Laurain, I seized the importunity offered by Netgalley to get an earlier introduction to this author, through his first book translated into English: The President’s Hat. A total delight!
Things are not doing too well at Daniel’s workplace in Paris. He decides to clear his mind one day and go by himself to the restaurant, as his wife and son are away.
Francois Mitterrand happens to come to the same place to eat, with Roland Dumas and others, and sits nearby. When the then French president leaves, he forgets his hat (The French title is Francois Miterrand’s hat). Acting on impulse, Daniel picks it up.
Right away, he starts having “unprecedented confidence”, which soon reflects in a sudden very positive shift in his work status, astonishing everyone. Now “a man of quiet strength” (translation of Mitterrand’s political slogan in the campaign that led to his election in 1980, “la force tranquille”), he no longer feels overwhelmed with anxiety. He gets promoted as a regional director to Rouen. But when he and his family leave for Rouen, Daniel forgets the hat in the train!
Then the book focuses on three other characters, as they find and lose the hat bearing the initials FM, and how it changed their lives, bringing them power (more than psychoanalysis in one case), and the courage to start a new life, no longer conforming to the expectations of others.
The book is full of political and cultural French references, famous personalities, and events.
Author Antoine Laurain shared that the idea of the book may have originated in the loss of his own hat. He also had fun introducing many elements pertaining to his childhood and teenage years, the 1980s.
The book is quirky, typically French in that sense. Like a modern fairy tale, it is fun and an easy read, though offering as well a reflection on destiny.
The important events in our lives are always the result of a sequence of tiny details.
Sometimes life carries you in different directions and you don’t even realize you’ve gone down a fork in the road; the great GPS of destiny has not followed the planned route and there has been no sign to indicate you’ve passed the point of no return. Life’s Bermuda Triangle is both myth and reality.
All the French cultural references added extra enjoyment for me, and the last twist makes the story form a great circle.
I can’t wait now to read another book by Laurain, French Rhapsody, received at BEA.
EN DEUX MOTS :
Délicieux petit roman très français et très amusant, bourré de références culturelles aux années 80. Il offre mine de rien une réflexion intéressante sur le destin. Bien construit, tout en restant simple, un vrai délice.
VERDICT: This short and funny novel full of cultural references to the 1980s actually offers an interesting reflection on destiny. Delightfully French!
WHAT IS IT ABOUT
Daniel’s thrill at being in such close proximity to the most powerful man in the land persists even after the presidential party has gone, which is when he discovers that Mitterrand’s black felt hat has been left behind.
After a few moments’ soul-searching, Daniel decides to keep the hat as a souvenir of an extraordinary evening. It’s a perfect fit, and as he leaves the restaurant Daniel begins to feel somehow … different.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
was born in Paris and is a journalist,
and the author of five novels.
The President’s Hat,
a charming fable set in the Mitterrand years,
was awarded the Prix Landerneau Découvertes
and the Prix Relay in 2012 and is published in English by Gallic.
It was a Waterstones Book Club book
and ABA Indies Introduce pick in 2013.
Antoine was chosen to represent France at European Literature Night 2014.He is also the author of The Red Notebook (2015) and French Rhapsody (Oct 2016).Sign up for Antoine Laurain’s newsletter and keep up to date with his upcoming novels, book signings and events near you.