The President’s Hat by Antoine Laurain
Gallic fiction: paperback published 2013: 200 pages
Dining along in an elegant Parisian brasseries, accountant Daniel Mercier can hardly believe his eyes when President François Mitterand 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 Mitterand’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.
A pick from the Waterstones Book Club, I picked this book up because I was so intrigued by the premise – a man picks up the President of France’s hat, and magical things begin to happen. It reminds me of childhood fairytales.
The story itself is hard to explain. The hat goes from person to person, transforming their lives and becoming something new to each of them. But it’s a mere 200 pages long, and each story feels like a brief notation. Each one was entertaining, wonderfully written and intriguing, but there was nothing more than a swift nod to it and then on to the next. The hat itself felt more important than the stories it was building. And it didn’t quite work.
The President’s Hat is an enjoyable read, but it lacked the vigour and depth I was hoping for. I am perhaps a touch too young to get some of the cultural references made (set during Mitterand’s presidency, it features the 80s quite heavily), and so a few aspects went over my head, and perhaps that took away from some of the storytelling.
My favourite story was the writer – for perhaps obvious reasons – but hers was the briefest tale to tell. I think it’s hard when telling more than one POV, because inevitably someone will disagree with your choice, and feel that someone else should get more attention. However, I very much enjoyed the ending when you hear about Mitterand’s side of the story, and felt it was a nice round up to a brief tale.
If you have a spare couple of days to read this, I’d not tell you no, but it lacks the oomph it needs to be an outstanding story (and falls short by about 100 pages).
Next book: Up next is Cloudstreet by Tim Winton. I started to watch the TV series a while ago, and missed half the first episode and then the whole of the next one and then watching it sort of fell flat on its face after that. So rather than try again, I thought I’d give the book a try!