The Red Notebook by Antoine Laurain

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What I really need is a friend just like me; I’m sure I’d be my own best friend

When single, middle-aged Laurent finds a woman’s handbag outside of his Paris bookstore, his first instinct is to leave it alone.  But a deeper curiosity inspires the bookseller to locate the owner of this mysterious mauve handbag and return it.  With only a few personal effects, how is Laurent supposed to find one woman in a city of millions?

But after searching through the pocketbook, Laurent discovers a small red notebook, rife with its owner’s personal thoughts, opinions, fears, and hopes.  As far as he can tell, he is reading a stranger’s diary.  Immediately, Laurent is both pleasantly surprised by the notebook’s fascinating contents, and horrified with himself for intruding upon this woman’s privacy.  The notebook contains lists of likes and dislikes, random thoughts on relationships and family, and some downright odd entries, such as:

I’m scared of red ants.
And of logging into my bank account and clicking ‘current balance.’
I’m scared when the telephone rings first thing in the morning.
And of getting on the Metro when it’s packed.
I’m scared of time passing.
I’m scared of electric fans, but I know why.

Even so, Laurent is enlivened by the thought of playing detective and must sift through the “evidence” for clues.  With the help of his teenage daughter and a few friends, the red notebook becomes the most important text Laurent has ever analyzed.  Soon enough, he is quite enamored with his mystery woman and almost desperately wants to be a part of her life.  He wonders how his own story would change if they met and fell in love.  He knows it’s melodramatic and unrealistic, but as a bibliophile, he also has a great weakness for a good plot, so why not imagine a romantic Parisian love story?

Can you experience nostalgia for something that hasn’t happened?  We talk of ‘regrets’ about the course of our lives when we are almost certain we have taken the wrong decisions, but one can also be enveloped in a sweet and mysterious euphoria, a sort of nostalgia for what might have been.

With elements of mystery, romance, and drama coupled with the effervescence and charm of Amelie, The Red Notebook is a perfectly delightful and bubbly tale.  Antoine Laurain has provided a cozy reminder that a traditional story of love and happenstance still has its place in our fast-paced world of crowded streets, strangers, big cities, and dwindling beliefs in a fated romance.

red_notebook ★★★★½
The Red Notebook
By Antoine Laurain
Translated from the French by Emily Boyce and Jane Aitken
Gallic Books
(2014) 2015
159 Pages
ISBN 9781908313867

About Karli Cude

Karli Cude, previous moderator of Hooked Bookworm, is an avid reader and former bookseller. She graduated from the University of Tennessee with a B.A. in English Literature in 2010 and completed a Master’s degree in Library and Information Sciences in 2013.