The Red Notebook (Gallic Books, 2015) was one of the two books I read on a recent visit to France which involved long train journeys; so conducive to reading for hours on end. While there, I had a chance to look at the French original, La femme au carnet rouge (Paris: Flammarion, 2014) and this confirmed my positive opinion of the translation by Emily Boyce and Jane Aitken.
There are two dramatic opening chapters in which the ‘heroine’ is attacked and her fashionable handbag stolen. She has lost her keys and cannot get into her own flat so, fortunately, the compassionate night porter at the hotel opposite lets her have a room for the night on the promise to pay the next day. Then we meet the ‘hero’ who goes out for his morning stroll and compulsory coffee before opening his bookshop, called Le Cahier Rouge, the red notebook of the title. He finds the discarded handbag and takes it back to his apartment above the shop. There he commits ‘a forbidden act. A transgression. For a man should never go through a woman’s handbag.’
There follows a delightful and tortuous series of events which, you might guess but I couldn’t possibly confirm, might lead to the two of them meeting. There are few clues to Laure, the heroine’s, identity but one appeals directly to Laurent, the bookseller. It is an autographed and dedicated copy of Accident Nocturne by Patrick Modiano, Nobel Prize winner and an author who seldom does book signings and tends to shun publicity. Now, at least, he has a first name for the book-loving person who has lost her handbag. Will it be enough? You must read this very enjoyable and well-written rom-com to find out. What I can tell you is it is well worth the journey.
Since Laurent is a bookseller our author can, en passant, name a number of current highly-regarded French novelists. If you are tempted by this, have a pencil handy to note down first of all Modiano many of whose books are available in good translations, as well as Amélie Nothomb; and the outline of a very good recipe for pot au feu. If you have let the French you did at school or Uni slip, reading novels in French is a good way back in. So too would be a visit to the very useful website http://www.saliannefrenchfocus.com where the bilingual Salianne posts frequent short pieces with an English crib below. She is marvellous for contemporary French expressions. Happy reading and/or bonne lecture.