I’ve been to France as a tourist many times now. As a day tripper, a weekender and for a week in the sun and now I’m back living in Australia, transiting through Paris enroute to elsewhere.
This year however, I will be spending 6 weeks in France over Christmas!
I am ashamed to say that although my appreciation for all things French has been gradually increasing since those first channel dashes for cheap booze and a baguette, my comprehension for the language has been increasing by a word or two each visit.
I long to discover the real Paris, the real France that is shared with me in the book.
So it is glorious that The President’s Hat has been ‘translated from the French’. I even love the quirkiness of that phrase.
The inside cover reads …
Dining alone in an elegant Parisian brasserie, accountant Daniel Mercier can hardly believe his eyes when President Francois 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.
Don’t worry this book is not about politics in particular but the nature of people. A cast of characters and the changes the hat brings to them as it passes from head to head. I found the book to be an amusing window into the lives of these nostalgic characters. The subtle use of words and situations make an original tale that is very easy to read.
‘Wearing a hat confers undeniable authority over those without one.’ Tristan Bernard
I recently attending a workshop at Write Links where we looked at the importance of you first line. Laurain has created a wonderful first line …
Daniel Mercier went up the stairs at Gare Saint-Lazare as the crowd surged down.
Already Daniel is declared as a man happy to stay on his own path through life, even if it is different to those around him. I want to find out what he is doing and why he is so content.
Daniel is meeting his wife and son at the train station. When she see’s him …
‘She waved then described a circle above her head, finishing her gesture with an astonished look.’
She didn’t make a circle she described a circle – I love it!
‘What on earth is that hat?’
‘It’s Mitterand’s hat.’
‘I can see it’s Mitterand’s hat.’
‘No,’ Daniel corrected her. ‘I mean this really is Mitterand’s hat.’
We learn so much from this conversation, through the simple placing of the emphasis.
As the story unfolds we learn that Daniel is experiencing the need ‘to find himself’, as one of the guests had said on a recent program.
With his family away he decides to have his meal at a brasserie.
All brasseries have brilliant white tablecloths that hurt the eyes, like snow on the ski slopes. The glasses and silverware really do sparkle. For Daniel, the characteristic glitter of tableware in the best brasseries was the embodiment of luxury.
Daniel buttered a piece of bread and dipped it discreetly in the mixture – a ritual he performed every time he ate a seafood platter in a restaurant. The taste of the vinegar was chased away by a mouthful of chilled wine. He gave a satisfied sign. Yes, he had found himself.
And I have found myself in Paris!
The other characters we meet are no less believable.
‘I need time … you need to give me more time … all I need is time.’ He went through every possible variation. Over the last two years, Edward had become more obsessed with time than the most meticulous Swiss watchmaker.
Writes a woman of her married lover.
Later she writes …Who knows why I’ve written you such a long letter. It must be because I have a man in my life who wears a hat.
We come full circle with a surprising twist at the end which I won’t spoil. I’ll just leave you with this snippet.
After barely quarter of an hour in the can Veronique turned to him with that little frown that her husband was so fond of.
‘Where’s your hat?’ she asked.
Time stood still for Daniel.