The President’s Hat by Antoine Laurain, tr. Louise Rogers Lalaurie, Emily Boyce and Jane Aitken (Gallic Books, 2013) is something else I’d been wanting to read ever since I first heard about it so I jumped at the chance to review it for Summer Reads.
Dining alone in an elegant Parisian brasserie, accountant Daniel Mercier can hardly believe his eyes when President Francois 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.
I really loved this book. The style is light and easy to read, and the plot is so entertaining that I zipped through it in an afternoon – the first time I’ve done that in ages. I can see that some people would find the whimsical, almost mystical nature of the story annoying – the idea that a hat can change people’s lives – and when it comes to curing a character’s depression, I can also see that some people might find that insensitive or even offensive. All the same, I don’t think there is a need to read too much into it – it is meant as a fable and is a cute conceit but really the book is about the way one decision can influence others and the way our idea of ourselves can change the way we act.
It is intriguing to have three translators working on the book and to get a different voice from each of them for each of the characters. The setting in the recent, but still very different, past worked well for me and I also really enjoyed the extremely French flavour that the translators have captured. I did find it a little odd that the translation was copyright Gallic Books while the translators themselves were only credited at the end of the book with details of the characters they “voiced” but would highly recommend this as an entertaining read.
For more details of the book and the process of bringing it into English, see my interview with the three translators.