Wednesday, 30 April 2014

The President's Hat by Antoine Laurain

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.

Goodreads Description

I bought this little gem on impulse. It was one of those reduced price kindle offers and I thought I hadn't reviewed many French books on this blog (a couple I think), so I took a punt. 

The hat at the heart of the story passes from owner to new owner by a series of coincidences and each time the new owner changes his or her life, becoming more decisive and taking control of circumstances. Is this because of the hat? Daniel Mercier thinks so: his search for the hat he lost shortly after acquiring it ties the two ends of the novel together. But we are never told whether the hat has magical properties. Just as dressing up in your finest clothes makes you stand taller, it could simply be that the action of wearing this rather superior hat makes its recipients reach into themselves and find the resolve they have been lacking. 

The President's Hat is a positive, life-affirming read. Each of the hat's recipients has lost their way - one is a young woman in a relationship with a married man that is going nowhere, another is a perfume maker who has lost his creativity, and the last is a member of the conservative aristocracy who throws over his conservatism to become a patron of the arts. I suspect that there is some clever commentary on French society and the changes Mitterand wrought in it, but it was lost to me. The book is obviously very French and set in a time (the 1980s) which already seems very distant. 

The President's Hat is a short book with an easy-to-read style and so can be read in one session, but you will probably find yourself thinking about it afterwards. It raises some interesting philosophical questions - about how a chance occurrence can have big consequences, about power and its transfer and of course about how we can change our circumstances.

I will keep my eye on those kindle daily deals, if this book is anything to go by.
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