The President’s Hat, by Antoine Laurain. Book report extra #7 (2022)

The President’s Hat, by Antoine Laurain. Pub 2012. Translation by Gallic Books, 2013.

This is a wonderful semi-modern fable of the power of talismans over fate, luck, and confidence. The titular president is François Mitterand, President of France from 1981-1995, and he was well known for his sartorial elegance, especially his scarf and the also-titular hat.

As the novel open, one Daniel Mercier is dining alone one evening when who should sit at the table next to him but the President himself. He watches and listens, mesmerized by the persona and voice. When the President finishes and leaves, he forgets his hat. Daniel, in a burst of daring, takes the hat home and it becomes his own for a while.

Over the next few weeks, Daniel becomes more confident and assertive in his work and life, which leads quickly to a promotion and an opportunity to move his family to a new city and life. He also expands his perspectives on the world, losing his fear of being and thinking “like everyone else.” In short, he becomes himself. While leaving Paris for their new home, Daniel loses the hat.

The story then follows the hat to its new “owners”, each of whom experiences their own epiphanies and renewals. At the same time, Daniel is dogged in his pursuit of the hat, wanting it back for his own peace of mind and to finally do the right thing by it – return it to its owner.

The President and his hat.

Each of the stories is charming and engaging, and the caprice of fate in the transfer of the hat from owner to owner reflects the caprice of life – right place, right time – as well as the power of objects as totems and talismans to give strength and confidence.

I enjoyed this book almost as much as my previous taste of Laurain (The Red Notebook), and will look forward to other treats from him in coming years.

Fate: will pass along to another gentle reader.

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