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gertrude

November 2017

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reading

The President’s Hat, Antoine Laurain

presidentshat

I read somewhere that The President’s Hat is ‘a charming book’, so I snagged it when it was Kindle deal of the day. It is indeed a charming book, a sort of Parisian fairy tale which I found too short.

A chap called Daniel Mercier is alone while his wife and son are on holiday. He decides to treat himself to a good meal in an expensive brasserie. The food and wine are even more expensive than he’d reckoned on, but good enough to be worth the money. Then an astonishing thing happens. François Mitterand sits down right next to him with two companions. Mercier earwigs like mad, planning to dine out on the event for years. After the presidential party has left, he sees that Mitterand has left his hat behind. He steals it.
Instead of calling over the head waiter to say self-importantly, ‘I think the customer at the table next to me has left his hat behind,’ and receiving obsequious thanks, Daniel acted on impulse. He felt as if he had a double and that another Daniel Mercier now stood in the middle of the dining room,

From that moment, his life changes. ‘Wearing a hat gives you a feeling of authority over someone who isn’t, he thought to himself.’ The very next morning he demolishes the arguments of his superior at work and gets himself promoted. Alas, travelling to begin his new job in Rouen, he leaves the hat on the train and it’s picked up by a young woman called Fanny Marquant. She too feels different when she wears the hat: ‘Donning the new accessory had made her feel somehow powerful; it had the same effect as the designer clothes she so rarely treated herself to.’ Fanny also changes her life for the better, then leaves the hat on a park bench, where it’s picked up by … You get the picture? In all, four people find and wear the hat and for each it’s a life changing experience. Meanwhile, Mercier is trying to track down the hat, little suspecting that – oops! no spoiler.

The hat has the initials FM in the band. ‘So who was this F.M.? If only he knew what a chain of events his felt Homburg had set in motion.’ Who indeed? This book is partly a portrait of Mitterand; it was published in France as Le chapeau de Mitterand. Unusually, Amazon are selling it in the original French on their UK site. The year is 1986. Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and Helmut Kohl are the great figures of the time. There’s a lot of social and political comment which I found both interesting and amusing, quite apart from the four individual stories. The main point is of course, why did these things happen? Can an iconic item belonging to a powerful figure confer magical powers on another owner? I absolutely loved this book. It’s for you if you liked The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, or if you find Candide funny. Laurin is no Voltaire but he has written a delightful book.

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