The Red Notebook, by Antoine Laurain

>> Friday, February 17, 2017

TITLE: The Red Notebook
AUTHOR: Antoine Laurain

PAGES: 159
PUBLISHER: Gallic Books

SETTING: Contemporary Paris
TYPE: Fiction


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?
Coming home late one night, a young woman called Laure is mugged and her handbag is stolen. By the next morning, a bump in the head she received during the mugging has put her into a coma. That same morning, Laurent, a bookseller walking to work notices a handbag on a bin. Coming to exactly the right conclusion about what must have happened, Laurent picks it up and looks inside to see if he can work out whom to return it to.

And so begins an obsession. The objects in the handbag, including a red notebook where the owner writes a sort of journal, full of painfully honest observations, tell him a lot about her, just not her name. Laurent follows clue after clue to discover the identity of this woman he's come to think he might get along with really well.

The Red Notebook is sweet, but a bit insubstantial. On the whole, I enjoyed it. There were things I really liked, such as the sense of place. The book is set in Paris and it feels completely different to an UK urban setting, but at the same time it has quite a few touches of modernity that make it clear it's not (completely, maybe) idealised. It does feel a bit Amélie-ish, but that's no bad thing.

When I read the description I was a bit doubtful and, indeed, a lot of things happen here that could be seen as crossing the line into creepy and invasive. To the author's credit, however, he mostly keeps his main character on the right side of that line. He does try to do the right thing every time, it's just that events conspire to move him in the direction where he secretly wants to go, There was a single moment when I thought "Oh, no, no, no!", but he does make amends for that. And I liked the way he acted at the end, which did a lot to dispel the worries that he might be a bit stalkerish.

So I liked that ok. For all that, though, the characters didn't really succeed in engaging me and making me interested in their story, beyond the detective elements of Laurent trying to figure out his beloved's identity. I wasn't really convinced of the romance, although I was not convinced that the romance wouldn't work out, either.



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