Tuesday, 11 April 2017

The Red Notebook by Antoine Laurain

The Red Notebook by Antoine Laurain
First published in French in France as La femme au carnet rouge in 2014. English language translation by Jane Aitken and Emily Boyce published by Gallic Books in March 2015.

How I got this book:
Received a review copy from the publishers via NetGalley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Bookseller Laurent Letellier comes across an abandoned handbag on a Parisian street and feels impelled to return it to its owner. The bag contains no money, phone or contact information. But a small red notebook with handwritten thoughts and jottings reveals a person that Laurent would very much like to meet. 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?

The Red Notebook is a deceptive novel in that it seems quite light-hearted on the surface, but actually explores some pretty deep philosophical questions. Is it possible to glimpse what might have been? Can we influence coincidence? Where is the line between harmless curiosity and creepy stalking?

Returning home late one night Laure is mugged on her doorstep and her designer handbag stolen. Injured in the attack, she seeks refuge in a neighbouring hotel, but is later rushed to hospital. Next morning, bookseller Laurent finds the bag and, as a good citizen, takes it to the police. However they really aren't interested so Laurent undertakes his own amateur detective mission in order to track down its owner. The Red Notebook of the title is in the handbag and contains Laure's comments and thoughts on her life. There's nothing written there to identify her, but Laurent becomes so fascinated that he begins to cross social boundaries in his determination to find her.

I loved the gentle and very French style of this book which makes it a fascinating romance where, as readers, we never quite know whether Laure and Laurent will ever meet. And if they do, will their realities match up to their imaginations? Laurain has a deft touch and a lovely way of portraying his characters which comes through perfectly, even in translation. I was rooting for Laurent all the way through the book, even when his behaviour did start to get a little creepy. In the hands of a different writer, this could have become a sleazy or even a chilling book, but Laurain cleverly stays just on the happy side of the line. Yes, on reflection some of the coincidences are just too coincidental to be truly believable, but that didn't matter to me as I was so swept up in the romantic potential. I liked that both Laure and Laurent were independent people with pasts, cautious but open to possibilities, and Laurent's daughter is a great creation. I squirmed at the cafe scene! Laurain doesn't rush to his conclusion and often diverts into literary discussion or other asides. These do slow the pace, sometimes adding to its tension, but occasionally seeming like unnecessary padding. However The Red Notebook is still a relatively short book which I easily read in a few hours and I came away from it feeling uplifted and very satisfied with the tale.

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  1. Ohhhh I love the sound of this. You know I can never pass on a sublime romance. I especially love that this is set in France. :D

  2. I really like the sound of this one! I love novels set in France for starters. And even though it is a romance novel, it sounds like it goes a bit deeper than that as well and discusses fate too. Just the way I like it :D

    1. I love books about book people and The Red Notebook is lovely