Book Review: The President’s Hat by Antoine Laurain.

the-preisdent-s-hat-by-antoine-laurain-goodreadsType: Paperback, 208 pages

Publisher: Gallic Books, September 3, 2013 (first published in January 11, 2012)

Original Title: Le Chapeau de Mitterand

When I first read The Red Notebook by Antoine Laurain, little did I know that I would be buying another two books written by him. Who would have thought that novellas could be so fun and enthralling to read? What drew me to his books were also each chapter that were short and sweet and you could stop reading whenever you please.

A few months later, I was found to be reading The President’s Hat, written in similar fashion as The Red Notebook. The chapters, no more than 3 or 4 pages, were short and straight to the point, yet exciting enough to draw me in further and deeper into the story. It certainly didn’t take me long to finish the book; this time, all I needed was 5 days.

A black felt Homburg hat could change the fortunes of everyone who possessed it, until, in a brilliant twist of fate, it was the last person with the hat who meets up again with the President himself. Who would have thought that you can give an inanimate object a life of its own? Well, almost.

The President’s Hat kicked off with accountant Daniel Mercier enjoying a ‘bachelor’ dinner at an elegant Parisian brasserie while his wife and son were away on vacation, when the French President François Mitterrand and his two colleagues sat down at a table next to him. Daniel was so thrilled at being in such close proximity to the most powerful man in France he’d never thought that his first bite of the seafood platter he ordered would stay with him forever. It could all have been so very different; he could have stayed home and made his own supper, or dined elsewhere, or as Laurain had painted, there was initially no free tables for him. Thus, Daniel had concluded that “the important events in our lives are always the result of a sequence of tiny details“.

Synopsis of The President’s Hat by Goodreads:

Dining alone in an elegant Parisian brasserie, accountant Daniel Mercier can hardly believe his eyes when President François Mitterrand sits down to eat at the table next to him.

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.

And it was at that very moment that he realised that the President’s black felt Homburg hat had been left behind! Daniel’s decision to keep the hat as a souvenir of an extraordinary evening led to a series of unique events that unfolded throughout France from one city to another. The hat began to exchange hands and owners, which led to each owner experiencing a positive change in his or her life. The wearer of the hat was made to feel different about himself or herself; from Daniel, the hat went to Fanny Marquant, a young would-be author who is trapped in an affair with a married man, to the retired perfumer Pierre Aslan who is struggling to recapture his withered creativity, and lastly, art collector Bernard Lavallière whose life has lost its truth and purpose.

The President’s Hat is indeed a quirky and well-written piece of contemporary European literature. It had appeared, at first glance, to be as light as air. But within its 200 pages, the reader would be exposed to a world of clever and colourful storytelling with deep layers of subtle meaning. The book was written in a true French style of enchantment, with a smooth and effortless flow of the story. Each vivid character had his or her essence captured in a minimum of words and with a vitality that never ceased to surprise and/or delight the reader.

Mitterrand’s hat had been a talisman which made the wearers’ dreams comes true. The mundane became magical, a simple impulse became an act of life-changing importance. It’s evident that you’d have to take your hat off to an author like Laurain who conjured up a clever and refreshingly original story out of a hat, just like a magician would. Oh, and I learnt that carpaccio is the name of a famous artist. Vittore Carpaccio, a famous Venetian painter. Fascinating.

In less than a week, I finished reading it. I loved how short each chapter was, made for easy reading and easy digestion. I could stop any time or pick it up again at a later time to continue until I turned the last page of the book. Laurain’s writing style is crisp, clear and concise sans the long sentences, irritating jargon, and chunky paragraphs that other books tend to have. It was perfect, and he is now my literary inspiration to writing novellas and short stories.

To me, Antoine Laurain has got to be the best novella author ever! You may disagree with me if you have read other books by authors who are better than he is. Even if he isn’t, then he is now my new favourite novella author! When I first read The Red Notebook, I thought it was a one-hit wonder. Turned out The President’s Hat was just as amazing and wonderful, and back then, I had only read the first few chapters of the book.

And now I’m onto his third similarly-written book called French Rhapsody. I’ll be back in another 5 or so days to tell you all about it!


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