The Red Notebook by Antoine Laurain, Emily Boyce (translator) and Jane Aitken (translator)
|The Red Notebook by Antoine Laurain, Emily Boyce (translator) and Jane Aitken (translator)
|Category: General Fiction
|Reviewer: John Lloyd
|Summary: An instant, flawless masterpiece of Parisian perfection.
|Date: April 2015
|Publisher: Gallic Books
|External links: Author's website
Meet Laure. She's a widow in her 40s, who is entering her Parisian apartment building one night when she's mugged, and her handbag stolen. Meet Laurent, a middle-aged bookseller, who happens upon the handbag the following morning in the street, just before the binmen take it away, never to be seen again. More or less snubbed when trying to hand it to the police as lost property, he decides to take it upon himself to reunite the bag with its rightful owner. He has no idea their names are so intimately linked, and despite a lot of things being in the bag (including the titular notebook) there is no cash, no phone and no ID documentation at all. What's more – and what looks like making the idea even more fruitless – he has no idea that Laure has fallen into a coma as a result of the mugging…
This book is, in one word, beautiful. It has some of the spirit and sense of the movie Amelie, but is nowhere near as full-on. It is full of charming serendipity and happenstance – and has befallen one of its own, for since being written it has been given a little fillip all the way from Scandinavia. Only recently the Nobel Prize judges gave the literature award to Patrick Modiano, and he has a cameo in the plot here. That does allow me to flag up the fact that there are several French cultural references and some authorial name-dropping, but that is the nearest thing to something that would hinder the book from crossing over most successfully to an English language audience – something I sincerely hope happens.
It is just a brilliant evocation of two people taking the bull called life by its horns and getting on with things, and provides really warming evidence that when people do good for other people – as these characters generally do – they have more good things befall them. It's not just about the two main characters, for the book takes us with a mixture of less routine narrative styles (the notebook entries that first alert Laurent to the spirit of the woman he seeks, email exchanges) and opens out in surprising ways to find secondary characters and bring them into the plot. It's not the longest book in the world – it has the snappy concision of the novella that on the whole makes the more successful movie adaptation, which I can see happening. Nor is this my longest review ever, but it's one of the rare instances when I can only enthuse about a book, and demand it be looked at. As unconvincing as I feel short write-ups may be, there really is not a bad word to say about this wonderful work of art.
I must thank the publishers for my review copy.
The Red Notebook by Antoine Laurain, Emily Boyce (translator) and Jane Aitken (translator) is in the Top Ten Literary Fiction Books of 2015.
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You can read more book reviews or buy The Red Notebook by Antoine Laurain, Emily Boyce (translator) and Jane Aitken (translator) at Amazon.com.
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