Monday, November 25, 2013

Review: The President's Hat by Antoine Laurain

What gives someone power? Is it their innate personality? Is it something learned? What if it was at least partially contained in something outside of themselves like their hat, for instance? In Antoine Laurain's novel, The President's Hat, newly translated from the French, at least some of Francois Mitterrand's power resides in his Homberg and when he leaves it behind at a restaurant, inadvertently sending the hat on an adventure through a series of different people needing to tap into some of its residual power, it makes for a creative and whimsical tale.

Daniel Mercier stops at a rather elegant Parisian brasserie while his wife and small son are away, thinking to treat himself to a lovely meal and a good bottle of wine. As he's savoring his solitary meal, he notices that President Mitterrand and his party are at an adjacent table. Daniel thrills to his proximity to the most famous and powerful man in France and when Mitterrand forgets his hat, Daniel picks it up and wears it out of the restaurant. It becomes part of his daily attire and Daniel notices that with the hat comes a confidence and a decisiveness he's never before felt at work. And with this newfound self-assurance, which he attributes to the power of the hat, Daniel earns a big promotion at work. But then he, like Mitterrand, inadvertently forgets the hat on a train where it is picked up by Fanny Marquant, an aspiring writer who is travelling to a scheduled tryst with her married lover. Mitterrand's hat gives Fanny the courage to finally end it with her lover and inspires her to start a new story both in her life and on paper, the latter being one that she will submit for a writing prize. But Fanny too loses the hat, leaving it on a park bench for famous nose Pierre Aslan to find and to smell. Pierre has lost his most prized ability: the ability to create magnificent perfume. But by the power of the hat, Pierre starts to come back to himself, to be the man his wife married, to see himself once again as a spectacular nose. But Pierre loses the hat as well, to an error made by a cloakroom attendant. And so the hat is off again. Meanwhile, Daniel is desperately searching for the hat. But so is someone else.

Everyone who wears the hat changes his or her life for the better as a result of the certainty and aplomb they each feel when wearing the soft, felt creation. They are linked by the journey of the hat as it touches each of their lives for a short time but they are also connected through Daniel's search for the valuable Homberg. The novel is a fun and clever one, twisting and turning with fate, grounded very firmly in the France of the 1980s. Whether the hat is truly the source of the positive changes in each of the wearers' lives remains open for interpretation but as it passes from person to person, it illustrates the changes wrought in France by Mitterrand's presidency.  A charming allegory, this is well written and delightful and those who are looking for an original novel and appreciate a little serendipity in their reading will find this a thoroughly enjoyable diversion.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of this book to review.

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