The President’s Hat, by Antoine Laurain (Gallic Books). Translated by Jane Aitken, Emily Boyce and Louise Rogers Lalaurie. This is the perfect read for a weekend away – doesn’t take long to read, regular chapters for regular breaks for another G&T and not too heavy in terms of theme or content. I really enjoyed it, but I doubt it will be a book I will ever feel the need to read again.
The protagonist of the novel is Mitterrand’s hat. For those of you not familiar with the French politics of the last thirty years, Francois Mitterrand was the president of France from the early 80s till 1995, rather a Tony Blair figure in regard to his tenure (for those of you not familiar with British politics of the last twenty years, Tony Blair was Prime Minister from 1996 till 2007, was a member of the Labour party, did some good stuff in the first term and then oversaw the fastest widening of the gap between the rich and poor the nation has ever seen in the terms that followed. He also got on better with right of centre politicians than his supposedly fellow left of centre ones.)
Mitterrand leaves his hat in a restaurant, and it is picked up by bundle of nerves Daniel Mercier. What happens when he puts it on immediately put me in mind of Flan O’Brien’s The Third Policeman (you must all read this – I will do a review). In said novel, one of the characters talks about how the juddering on poorly maintained roads leads to an exchange of atoms between bicycle and rider, eventually leading to a point where the bicycles go off doing things and the rider is left propped against wall. This hat isn’t just Mitterrand’s, it has been worn so much by him that it has gained his will, his strength and his left-wing politics. And, as you might expect, what a hat can taketh, it can also give away.
This takes us on a humorous little journey through the lives of all the people whose lives are vastly improved by the appearance of the hat. It won’t blow your mind, but it will give you a nice warm fuzzy feeling that is often just as good. I think part of the fallout from my university education is that I still feel a bit guilty if I’m reading a book that isn’t educating me in some way, and I really need to shake that off and understand that books that just make one feel good are as important.