• 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
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One Response

  1. 1
    Sunanda Krishnamurty 

    The red Notebook, By Antoine Laurain, Gallic books, 2014/15.
    A charming, entertaining love story, with an element of mystery. I enjoyed reading it. The writing is simple in the sense that one doesn’t need to consult a dictionary to understand a word. It has a lovely flow, and it is cleverly written. Not a literary masterpiece but very well written.
    The plot is Interesting. After reading the first page I thought that the narrative would pursue the criminal who mugged her. Then the police, detectives, and finally the criminal being caught. But instead, it took another direction, the parallel account of the man who found the bag. Then I realized that the woman and the man are likely to meet, and it will turn into a love story. The beginning is excellent. The book held my interest throughout. I was curious to know what comes next.
    This love story has a good bit of humour. For instance, William talking to the showerhead while he is in his bath. There are many more such funny lines. Super good dialogue, even the short, staccato ones like those between Laurent and Modiano. While the speech is fragmentary, few words convey a lot.
    Characters are well drawn, convincing and consistent. Not only the two main characters, but others, like William and Chloe, have important roles, and we get to know them. So too with relatively small presence in terms of pages, like Frederick Pichier and Patrick Modiano, who has a brief but pivotal role. The two cats have their own strong presence.
    The narrative is mainly in the third person, except the diary entries. But many different points of view have been skillfully drawn so that it retains a smooth flow.
    There are many references to French authors and their works. Readers whose first language is not French, like me, may not be familiar with these. There are a few convenient coincidences, for instance the writer Pichier reads hieroglyphics, so Laurent gets to know Laure’s last name.
    I loved reading this book. Thank you for including it.

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