The President’s Hat [London: Gallic Books, 2013] by Antoine Laurain more or less jumped off the shelf and sat on my head until I had read it. Readers will remember my enthusiastic review of a later novel by Laurain, The Red Notebook and I think this one is just as good. I didn’t think so at first. I thought it was going to be like those English compositions we had to write in primary school such as ‘The Adventures of a Penny’ where it goes from hand to hand. However, very soon it becomes obvious that this is a witty and well-written novel in which a black Homburg belonging to France’s President, François Mitterand, is mislaid and then appropriated, one after another, by different characters. For each, it becomes an impulse to major changes in their lives. The story is brought to a fascinating and convincing dénouement.
No more can not be revealed but I can say that Laurain has written now six novels, the latest due out this year. I had only one beef and that is with the UK publisher Gallic Books. Why was, or so it seemed to me, the excellent translator not named in either of the books they have published? I have no problem with them owning the copyright provided they have paid market rates to the translator but the profession of translation depends on the translator becoming known. Gallic Books have explained to me that the translators, mentioned at the back of the book as having ‘voiced’ the different characters, are Louise Rogers Lalaurie, Emily Boyce and Jane Aitken. The translators of The Red Notebook were Emily Boyce and Jane Aitken, as listed in the prelims on pages one and five. It is an interesting concept to use different translators for different narrators and, in these two cases, it does seem to have worked well. The publisher’s own website gives full details of all the translators they use so I am more than pleased.