The President’s Hat – Antoine Laurain – review

Gallic Books

Translated by Jane Aitken, Emily Boyce and Louise Rogers Lalaurie


“Dining alone in an elegant Parisian brasserie, accountant Daniel Mercier can hardly believe his eyes when President François Mitterrand sits down to eat at the table next to him.

Daniel’s thrill at being in such close proximity to the most powerful man in the land persists even after the presidential party has gone, which is when he discovers that Mitterrand’s black felt hat has been left behind.

After a few moments’ soul-searching, Daniel decides to keep the hat as a souvenir of an extraordinary evening. It’s a perfect fit, and as he leaves the restaurant Daniel begins to feel somehow … different.”

3.5 of 5 stars

Daniel Mercier finds himself alone in Paris whilst his wife and son are away. On the spur of the moment he decides to visit a brasserie. Whilst eating President Mitterrand sits down at the table next to him. As Mitterrand leaves the restaurant, he leaves behind his black Homburg hat. On the spur of the moment Daniel keeps the hat for himself. As he begins to wear the hat he notices a change come over him. Could it be the hat?

This is a short novel, only 208 pages and is a charming concept; following the journey of a hat from the head of the Head of State all the way to that of a middle aged French aristocrat. Each new wearer of the black felt headpiece begins to act in a way they would not have before, or discover a new lease for life. Some, like Daniel, attribute the change to the hat, others are unaware of its effect.

There is a magical, almost fairy tale like quality to this book. This is in some part due to the setting of Paris but also to the writing style of Laurain. The book feels almost like a series of short stories, each one linked by a common theme. The snapshot into each life is brief but also well rounded, you get a feel for each character in a short space of time. In fact I soon found it easy to establish who were favoured characters and who I did not feel for too much. Daniel for example, felt to me to be a needy character, easily led and one who does not stand up for himself. He is also obsessive to the point that it becomes unhealthy and has a very understanding wife. It is however a joy to see how each character changes as the story progresses. The epilogue nicely fleshes out and finishes the story, completing the picture as a whole.

The story is set in the 1980s and features real life characters, interspersing the fictional ones. This adds to the surreal feeling of the novel, being never quite sure who is real and who imagined. I am looking forward to Laurain’s next book The Red Notebook, which is published by Gallic Books in 2105.



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