The Red Notebook by Antoine Laurain

He drank some more wine, feeling he was about to commit a forbidden act.  A transgression. For a man should never go through a woman’s handbag – even the most remote tribe would adhere to that ancestral rule. Husbands in loincloths definitely did not have the right to go and look for a poisoned arrow or a root to eat in their wives’ rawhide bags.

Now this is how you charm a sometimes cynical, romance novel chuckin’, rom-com avoidin’, gleeful wet blanket like me! Give me a love story that plays out more like a gentle mystery/caper with a dash of gravitas and a teaspoon of that distinct Gallic whimsy and humor that only an actual French writer is capable of penning. And put in a lot of books! And make almost all the characters savvy readers! And add in a literary cameo! Oh, and CATS!

Okay, enough of that before I start going entirely off course. The Red Notebook is a smart and sublime story of a French bookseller name Laurent who, while walking to a café one morning, finds an abandoned handbag on top of a rubbish bin. He decides to take the handbag to the nearest police station but the police there merely laud for his ‘fine act of citizenship’ and refer him to another location. Laurent instead takes the bag back with him to his apartment and goes through its contents, beginning with a slim, red moleskin notebook. As he examines everything within both the bag and the notebook, Laurent becomes drawn to the objects’ mysterious owner. A very surprising discovery soon yields a first name: Laure. Urged on by his feisty daughter, Chloe and armed only with a few scraps of information, Laurent sets out on an impossible mission to find this intriguing woman.

What was she like, this Laure who enjoyed having lunch in the garden, was frightened of red ants, dreamt she was making love to her pet which transformed into a man, and had a signed Patrick Modiano?

She was an enigma. It was like looking at someone through a fogged-up window. Her face was like one encountered in a dream, whose features dissolve as soon as you try to recall them.

The Red Notebook is a refreshingly different and distinctly French love story that also reads like an almost-love letter to contemporary European and French literature. Oh, and there are also two cats by the names of Belphegor and Putin. I did not stutter, I said Putin.



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