Book Review: The Red Notebook by Antoine Laurain.

the-red-notebook-antoine-laurainType: Paperback, 159 pages

Publisher: Gallic Books, April 7, 2015 (first published on March 5, 2014)

Original Title: La Femme au Carnet Rouge

It took me only a week to finish reading The Red Notebook by Antoine Laurain. A week. This is by far the shortest duration I’ve ever taken to reading a book! Especially since I’m working and don’t really have that much free time to muck around often with books. But I guess this is because the book was thinner than most I’ve read and each chapter was shorter as well, thus making it an easy read at any given time of the day.

Now, allow me to give you a gist of the story before sharing with you my thoughts about it. To put it simply, the book was shortened and summarised to my best ability:

It’s the story of a bookseller who finds a handbag in the street one day, takes it home with him, empties out its contents and decides to look for the woman who owns it. He succeeds but when he finds her, he runs off like an idiot.

In the first chapter, we are introduced to Laure Valadier. A gilder by occupation, Laure is a widow in her 40s, who was mugged and had her handbag stolen just as she was entering her Parisian apartment building one night. Then we are introduced to Laurent Letellier, a middle-aged bookseller who happened to chance upon the handbag the following morning in the street just before the garbage collectors came round to clear the trash, never to be seen again. After having gone to the police to hand it in as lost property, Laurent decides to take it upon himself to reunite the handbag with its rightful owner instead. He has no idea where to start as the only items he had with him about the owner were the contents of the handbag. And nothing in her handbag had stated her name. Which made it look like a fruitless detective search. What’s worse is that he had no idea that Laure had fallen into a coma as a result of the mugging!

Synopsis by Goodreads:

Heroic bookseller Laurent Letellier comes across an abandoned handbag on a Parisian street. There’s nothing in the bag to indicate who it belongs to, although there’s all sorts of other things in it. Laurent feels a strong impulse to find the owner and tries to puzzle together who she might be from the contents of the bag. Especially a red notebook with her jottings, which really makes him want to meet her. Without even a name to go on, and only a few of her possessions to help him, how is he to find one woman in a city of millions?

There’s only one word to sum up a charming story like The Red Notebook. Beautiful. It was a beautifully-written novella (I don’t think the word ‘novel‘ is suitable since it had no more than a couple of hundred pages), with a sense of spirit and determination from the owner of Le Cahier Rouge. The novella expertly captured the very essence of two compassionate individuals who began as strangers (Laurent knew more about Laure than Laure did about Laurent – I liked how their names had the same first 5 letters) and ended up being together. Two strangers who were searching for something missing in their lives, physically and emotionally. The author had captured and shared this in his prose, simple in scope yet complex in its beauty.

It was a brilliantly-doctored evocation of two people taking life by its horns and getting on with things, with a sense of comforting evidence that when people do good deeds for others, they have a better chance at having good things falling into their laps. The thing is, the book wasn’t just about the two main characters either. The author had given a mixture of less routined narrative  styles, opening out in surprising ways to find secondary characters and bringing them into the plot. For example, the endless entries written by Laure in her red Moleskine notebook (another factor that drew me to love the book even more) were the first alerts to Laurent on the spirit of the woman whom he was looking for.

It certainly isn’t the longest book in the world. Like I mentioned somewhere up there, it has the snappy concision of a novella that, on the whole, would have made it a successful movie adaptation. If only there was one, I would have paid good money for it. It was a really beautiful book, despite its thickness. I loved how each chapter was just a page or two (or three, at most), with just the right amount of information, details and plot for you to read and understand and digest.

It was a perfectly pleasant read, with clear and concise sentences; not to mention, the less-than-chunky paragraphs that I usually see in other thicker novels. Sometimes, reading in simple English is the way to go with few names to remember and a little love story that is waiting to bloom and blossom. All it needed was a little fate. And a push from Laurent Letellier’s daughter Chloe. It also wasn’t your average modern day, typical sex-in-bed kind of romance (which was good!), but it was a classic kind of romance that captivates you, melts your heart, softens your expression and makes you sigh with happiness and contentment. All the ingredients that was needed to make the book monumental and thoroughly enjoyable to read.

In fact, The Red Notebook was so wonderful that I went ahead to look for Laurain’s other two books, The President’s Hat and French Rhapsody on Book Depository. A friend had recommended the online book website to me where I can buy books at a much cheaper price than other online bookstores I know, with no delivery charges too! That is so not going to help me with my book-buying addiction now.

Excuse me while I carry on with my next book: My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier.


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