Tag-Archive for ◊ author ◊

• Saturday, May 27th, 2023

Antoine Laurain was born in Paris in 1972. After finishing high school, he took film studies at university, followed by making short films and attempting screenplay writing. Being a great lover of art, he became the assistant to a Parisian antique dealer.

Immersed in the collectors’ world, Laurain was incentivised to write “The Portrait”, a novella about a fervent art collector. The novella received the Drouot Prize in 2007, encouraging Laurain to pursue his writing and earning him prizes for his subsequent books. Laurain is also a journalist for PalaceScope, a deluxe Paris magazine about lifestyle, fashion, art and creation.

The Red Notebook, published in 2014, is Antoine Laurain’s fifth novel. It starts with the middle-aged widow, Laure Valadier, who works as a gilder. She is about to enter her apartment building late in the evening when she is intercepted by a mugger who snatches her handbag. Laure clings to the handbag and strongly resists the attacker. Nevertheless, to overcome her resistance, the mugger puts the palm of his hand on her face and throws her head against the metal of the building’s door. He then grabs her handbag and runs. A few hours later, Laure is transported to hospital in a coma with a subdural hematoma and remains there for most of the story.

Laurent Lettelier, a middle-aged divorced man and father of a fifteen-year-old daughter, Chloé, is the proprietor of a Parisian bookstore called “Le cahier rouge”. While on the way to his bookshop the day following Laure’s mugging, Lettelier stops for a coffee at a nearby café before going on to work, and while heading for it, he discovers a lady’s purple leather handbag in perfect condition on the lid of a garbage bin.

Intrigued, Lettelier decides to pick up the handbag and hand it in to the nearest police station. However, the long wait and lack of cooperation from the police officers dissuade Lettelier, who then chooses to return the following day. Meanwhile, on further thought, he sorts through all the items in the handbag, hoping to discover the name or address to reunite the bag with its rightful owner, but fails because the wallet and portable telephone are missing.

Even the Moleskine red notebook contains nothing to help guide him to the rightful owner. It is a notebook containing dozens of inspirational thoughts, random opinions and observations, fears and dreams, some absurd and some sensual, arousing the finder’s curiosity. It makes him feel he has opened a door leading to the spiritual sphere of the unknown owner of the red notebook. It incites him to seek out this mysterious woman whose intimate secrets he has happened upon.

The story immerses the reader in everyday Parisian life, and the main character, as a librarian, takes us to the French literary world with French books and French authors, some of them classic writers like Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Proust, Stendhal, Prévert, Eluard and some contemporary ones like the famous Amélie Nothomb, the equally famous Marc Lévy, and the well-known French novelist and Nobel Prize recipient, Patrick Modiano.

The author includes two titles of Modiano’s novels, “Paris Nocturne”, published in 2003 and “Missing Person”, published in 1978. The French writer, photographer, and conceptual artist Sophie Calle, also gets a mention.

In addition, the author refers to some well-known classical novels of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, like “Les liaisons dangereuses” by Choderlos de Laclos, published in 1782 and “Madame Bovary” by Gustave Flaubert, published in 1857.

We also come across some classic French culinary dishes like the hachis parmentier, the pot-au-feu and even the famous French perfume, Habanita by Molinard, launched in 1921.

The Red Notebook is an original, pleasant, serene, engaging, easy-read short novel with a simple plot, short chapters and two protagonists with sympathetic characters and similar personalities. It is a suspenseful detective story full of accidental discoveries and an unconventional, exciting romance.

It is a pursuit of an enigma, an unusual hunt toward the unknown that slowly shifts into a love affair between two strangers who happen to come across each other fortuitously by fate. Two lives intersect at this critical point in their existence; two passionate strangers seek and discover something in one another.

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Category: Book Reviews  | One Comment
• Friday, May 28th, 2021

Hiromi Kawakami was born in Tokyo, Japan, in 1958. She is a 1980 biology graduate from Ochanomizu Women’s University in Tokyo, where her degree thesis was on “reproduction in sea urchins”. In 1982, Kawakami worked for four years as a biology teacher at Denenchoolori High School. After her marriage in 1986 and her husband’s work involving living in another region of Japan, she stopped working and became a housewife and a mother. She divorced in 2009.

The Nakano Thrift Shop was published in Japanese in 2005 and English in 2016. It won the Junichiro Tanizaki Prize, one of Japan’s much sought after literary awards. It was a best-seller, translated into several languages and was adapted for television. Kawakami is known as an unconventional novelist, Haiku poet, literary critic and provocative essayist. She is one of the most acclaimed writers in Japan.

The story of The Nakano Thrift Shop revolves around four characters. Young Hitomi, the protagonist and narrator, works as a cashier in Mr Nakano’s thrift shop; the married, middle-aged Mr Nakano, the shop owner, is a mysterious person and a womanizer with various former wives. Takeo, his delivery driver, is an unemotional shy young man, disinterested in sex and to whom the passive Hitomi seems to be attracted. The fourth character is Nakano’s eldest sister, the fifty-year-old artist, Masayo, who is secretive about her regrets and heartaches. She is accommodating, has never married and volunteers to teach Hitomi a few rudiments about love and attraction.

In different ways, each character is peculiar, introverted, eccentric and with no motivation for adjustment. Hitomi has changing moods, and her thoughts evolve around Takeo and his disinterest in love and romance. Both of them seem awkward and insecure. Hitomi is uncertain about whether she loves Takeo or dislikes him. As for Takeo, his sentiments appear to be lukewarm towards her, an emotional uncertainty that is not uncommon in Kawakami’s novels.

Nothing much happens in the everyday life of the four characters – just a quiet, mundane perpetuum mobile, similar to Kawakami’s previous novel, The Briefcase, published in English in 2012, which we discussed in our Book Club in 2018. Both novels are slow-paced with no magical realism, plot, or twists, just an account of the quiet life of ordinary people. It is akin to Yasujiro Ozu’s films which have a certain charm. A line that is not uncommon with some Japanese authors and film-makers.

The novel is divided into 12 chapters. Each chapter is linked to the previous one and yet is self-contained, like an episode in a series. The chapters are titled according to items sold in the shop: Paper Weight, Letter Opener, Sewing Machine and other several bric-a-brac.

In The Nakano Thrift shop, the author concentrates more on describing the shop’s daily occurrences rather than developing her ambiguous characters, which are revealed to the reader in segments and without depth. The novel is left open-ended, giving the reader a choice for the denouement. The story provides salient insight into a Japanese shopkeeper’s daily life and the life of his workers and clients.