REVIEW: The Red Notebook by Antoine Laurain
Heroic bookseller Laurent Letellier comes across an abandoned handbag on a Parisian street. There’s nothing in the bag to indicate who it belongs to, although there’s all sorts of other things in it. Laurent feels a strong impulse to find the owner and tries to puzzle together who she might be from the contents of the bag. Especially a red notebook with her jottings, which really makes him want to meet her. 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?
Cher Monsieur Laurain,
This looked different and in truth I enjoyed a lot of the story but there is something readers will have to answer for themselves as they read it. Is Laurent a disturbing semi-stalker or is he a romance hero in the making? I weighed in more on the side of romance hero but a friend who read it in the original French never got over her feelings of unease.
The book jumps straight into the action with Laure’s mugging and Laurent’s discovery of her (now abandoned by the thief) handbag. Thwarted by police bureaucracy as he tries to turn it in, Laurent decides to go through the contents to see if he can discover to whom to return it. First he has to overcome his feelings about how men – from the dawn of time – have never felt comfortable opening and delving into a woman’s purse. Eventually he does and even as he knows what he’s doing is inappropriate, he can’t stop reading what she’s written in a red moleskin notebook. Laurent views the items in Laure’s bag as a bookseller would. An appointment book similar to the type his shop sells, a pen to jot her notes and then a book with an inscription in it from the elusive author who wrote it among other items.
Stop at this point and analyze your feelings about this. Because it’s going to get worse. So … en avant.
The search continues with little hints dropped here and there that are to keep one from thinking of Laurent as a stalker. We learn his life, meet his family and coworkers and watch the break up of his year long relationship with a woman obviously intended to be cold and dislikable. Then there’s Laurent’s buddy, Pascal’s cynical pursuit of women on dating sites – including Ashley Madison – to temper the reader’s unease at what Laurent is doing. Our sympathies are fully engaged for Laurent. While Laure isn’t physically present for most of the book, the very act of Laurent discovering things about her from her belongings keeps her front and center in our thoughts.
As she wakes from the coma, the mystery she’s been a (silent) partner in is gradually revealed to her. Meanwhile there comes a point where Laurent really crosses the line when he actively interferes in Laure’s life. This skeeved me notwithstanding the “get out of jail” card he gets when Laure’s opinion of the caller is revealed.
Even though Laurent feels all kinds of (justified) guilt over his (freely acknowledged) intrusion into Laure’s life, it is still disturbing. I think most women would be at least a little freaked out, which Laure is, but she’s soon enmeshed in trying to find Laurent in reverse. Does this excuse and balance part of what he did? The end is very Amelie-esque and I can say I liked a lot of the novel and the romantic ending yet that feminine unease never quite left me. B-