Novella a Day in May 2020 #9

The Red Notebook – Antoine Laurain (2014, trans. Emily Boyce and Jane Aitken 2015) 159 pages

The Red Notebook walks a very thin line and I suspect for some readers it will have crossed that line, from whimsical romance at a distance, to creepy stalker tale. Looking at goodreads most seem to have gone for the former, and that’s how I read it too, but I’m not entirely unsympathetic to the latter view.

Anyway, I’ll put my psychological reservations to one side and let you know about a charming novella that conjures Paris beautifully, features a cameo from Patrick Modiano, and plays into that old romantic trope of lovers that are destined for one another.

Laure is a widow in her 40s who mugged for her mauve handbag and ends up in hospital in a coma. Bookseller Laurent – similar name, similar age to Laure – finds her bag after the mugger has dumped it having removed ID, purse and mobile phone. He tries to hand it in but police bureaucracy means he ends up holding on to it, trying to piece together the owner from its contents:

“a little fawn and violet leather bag containing make-up and accessories, including a large brush whose softness he tested against his cheek. A gold lighter, a black Montblanc ballpoint (perhaps the one used to jot down her thoughts in the notebook), a packet of licorice sweets…a small bottle of Evian, a hairclip with a blue flower on it, and a pair of red plastic dice.”

The titular notebook is part of the contents, and it is a diary which Laurent reads to try and find clues to who Laure is:

“I’m scared of red ants.

And of logging on to my bank account and clicking ‘current balance’.

I’m scared when the telephone rings first thing in the morning.

And of getting the Metro when its packed.

I’m scared of time passing.

I’m scared of electric fans, but I know why.”

Laurent has some success in piecing together Laure’s life, and in the process we learn about them both. Laurent has a teenage daughter who is brattish but loving, and a girlfriend to whom he’s not entirely committed. He likes his job and he’s interested in literature.

He’s also increasingly interested in Laure and a sequence of events lead to him collecting her dry cleaning and cat-sitting for her (!) It was at this point I thought things had gone too far, but then Laurain manages to tip the balance of power in a believable turn of events that meant the story kept me on side.

If you’re in the mood for some escapism across the channel and some gentle romance, then The Red Notebook could be just the ticket.

24 thoughts on “Novella a Day in May 2020 #9

  1. I’ve never read Laurain but he’s well-known here.

    After reading your review, I didn’t think it was for me. Then I checked out the original and knowing the publisher, that’s definitely not for me.

    This book cover is dreadful: blue, white, red. The Eiffel Tower. The Arc de Triomphe and the Sacré Coeur. Really? I wonder where the baguette and the béret are.

    PS : still compiling your novellas on the Excel spreadsheet. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • The cover is so bad! Gallic Books usually do better than that. Especially as those landmarks are nothing to do with the story. It’s set in Paris but that’s it.

      Sorry this one isn’t for you but I definitely think this won’t be for everyone. It won me over but I did have some reservations.

      So impressed by your spreadsheet, I aspire to be so organised 😊


  2. This was the first Laurain I read and I loved it, but I was looking for a light read and so it filled the role perfectly. This was in the early days of Gallic Books, publishing contemporary French light lit in translation to readers of English, which may explain the stereotypical images, considering the lightness of the story, I can understand how those images might attract those readers who continue to romanticize Paris.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ah, that makes sense Claire. Yes, perhaps when they started out they went for a whimsical/romantic tourist marketing vibe. It’s definitely a light read, I really enjoyed it, usually I’m one for heavier, darker reads but those are definitely not what I want right now!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I was in two minds as to whether to read French Rhapsody after being disappointed with the tweeness of The Red Notebook but it turned out to have a surprisingly dark edge to it. My favourite Laurain is still The President’s Hat, though

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I like the sound of this. I can absolutely see what you mean about the toss up between romantic whimsy and stalker story. It does seem as if the author gets the balance between the two about right.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Yes, this one really split reactions, which was so interesting! Although I don’t plan the month, I do try and ensure a nice wide range as I go along. I pick them up in charity shops, and also now this is the third year I’ve done this, lovely book bloggers let me know throughout the year about good novellas to try as they know I’ll be on the look out 🙂


  6. As others have said above, I’m often impatient with lighter reads, but as others, still, have said, they do have a time and place. I wonder how many books we’ve read and previously dismissed under different circumstances that we’d be declaring simply wonderful when discovered under lockdown! This sounds sweet and I like what you’ve said about being surprised at that moment when you wonder whether something’s gone too far: I love to be surprised in stories.

    Liked by 1 person

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