The President’s Hat by Antoine Laurain

One for lovers of whimsy…

🙂 🙂 🙂

the-presidents-hatDaniel Mercier is eating alone one night in a restaurant when François Mitterrand, President of France, and some friends settle themselves at the next table. Daniel is thrilled to be so close to the great man, and begins to imagine that he’s part of the President’s group. When they leave the restaurant, Daniel notices that Mitterrand has accidentally left his signature hat behind. Succumbing to an overwhelming temptation, Daniel picks it up, crams it on his own head, and scuttles quickly out of the restaurant before Mitterrand notices and comes back for it. The strange thing is that, almost immediately he acquires the hat, Daniel, usually a rather diffident and anxious young man, finds his confidence growing and his bosses appreciating him more. So when he in turn accidentally leaves the hat on a train, he is very upset. But the woman who picks it up suddenly finds the desire and courage to change her own rather unhappy life…

Mitterrand and his hat...
Mitterrand and his hat…

And so the story progresses, with the hat being passed from one person to another. In each case, we learn a bit about their story and then see how the possession of the hat leads them to make fundamental changes for the better in their lives. The book is well-written and quite entertaining, though undoubtedly a little on the twee side for me. The stories vary in their interest level. One that I enjoyed tells of a ‘nose’ – a man who used to have a glowing reputation for creating lovely and highly successful perfumes, but who in recent years seems to have lost the knack. The descriptions of how he finds himself inspired by various smells that he comes across and how he then goes about recreating these is done well, and I enjoyed the idea of him being able to identify the scent each person he met was wearing. Other episodes were less successful for me – like the man who found his entire political outlook on life changing as a result of wearing the hat. Even whimsy must have some basis in reality, and the idea that one shows one’s conversion to socialism by buying up lots of expensive art to hang around one’s home seemed a little odd.

Antoine Laurain
Antoine Laurain

It’s not a book to over-analyse, but… well, when did that ever stop me? 😉 I found it intriguing in an irritating kind of way that all the men in the book were inspired to change either their working or political lives, while the solitary (beautiful, of course) woman’s story is one of breaking off a romantic relationship where she’s being used, and then finding true love with a man who gives her the support she needs. The book was written, I believe, in 2012 – have we really not got beyond these stereotypes? I also didn’t much care for the portrayal of Mitterrand – a man I know almost nothing about, so it’s not that I have a bias. In the book he comes over as rather creepy, misusing his position as President to use the Secret Service for personal rather than political purposes, and lasciviously drooling over a photo of the woman who briefly has his hat. For all I know, this might be an accurate portrayal, but even if it is, it didn’t feel right in a book as frothy and fanciful as this one is.

Still, it is quite readable and lightly enjoyable for the most part, so I’ll stop criticising now. Not one that worked terribly well for me, as you’ll have gathered, but I’m sure will work better for people who are more skilled than I am at immersing themselves fully in a bit of whimsy…

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Gallic Books.

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57 thoughts on “The President’s Hat by Antoine Laurain

    • Yeah, I get a bit picky, I know, but I do get fed up when all men have careers and stuff, while all women are only happy when they find a man who’ll love them… it worked in Austen’s day, but not so much now!!

  1. It does sound like a light, very fun read (if a bit too ‘frothy’), FictionFan. But I think I would be stopped by the images of women in it. Shame, too, because the premise could have been a really fun one. Still, glad there were some things you liked.

    • Yes, too frothy for me though I can see why it appeals to so many people. But I do get fed up with the idea that men are interested in careers and politics but women are only looking for a man to love them right…

  2. I’m quite happy with whimsy, but this sounds toe curling. And, I would be rendered uneasy too by the use abuse of the real character. Now, had the portrayal been that fish eyed pumpkin president elect, it would have been infinitely more plausible to have lecherous creepiness of character, as the fish pumpkin demonstrates those qualities on a continual basis. I’m afraid I abandoned another ‘whimsical’ French-in-translation given to me, as my toes curled into a frenzy of distaste. Bring back Zola and Flaubert

    • Yes, I’m not convinced this one would work for you – it is whimsical, but not quite in the Fancifull sense of whimsy. To be fair, I think he was probably trying to be nice about Mitterrand, but perhaps his idea of nice just isn’t mine – he seemed to think the drooling over the girl was funny, but the way it was written made my flesh crawl a bit. Locker-room talk!! I can’t say I’ve been overly impressed by most of the contemporary French translations I’ve read – they do seem to have quite a different style from us, and on the whole it doesn’t work for me…

  3. You’ve certainly presented this one well, both in the pros and the cons. I think I’d find myself having some of the same qualms you had, though. Why does it take so long for these old stereotypes to die out?? At any rate, his premise sounds a bit fanciful, but if the writing is good, we’re only too glad to suspend reality for a bit and ride along.

    • Thanks, Debbie, and it certainly has plenty of pros – I can see why it appeals to many people even if it’s a bit fluffy for my taste. But I am fed up with men being portrayed as being interested in careers and politics while women are just looking for love… so outdated. But it’s only meant to be a bit of fun, so I probably shouldn’t take it so seriously – always my problem with whimsy.

  4. Whimsical and twee… that’ll be for me then! I’ve read several reviews of this over the past year and already have it on my tbr. Even forewarned of the stereotypes and weak spots, I’m still planning on enjoying it! 😀

    • I hope you do! Ceratinly most people seem to have loved it, and I should have known it would be too whimsical for me. I’m never good at these kinds of books – I tend to take them too seriously. So don’t be put off by my criticisms! 🙂

  5. “frothy and fanciful”… will go onto my “I just want something light” list. (P.S.: I am slightly irritated by the fact that all of his book covers look so obviously intentionally similar, but that’s a silly thing to be irritated by.)

    • It’s definitely a good light read, and most people seem to have thoroughly enjoyed it – it’s just not really my kind of book, sadly. (I know – that seems to be becoming a “thing” that all of an author’s books get a kind of specific style of cover. I’m not too keen on it either – it feels as if it lacks originality…)

  6. I don’t really “do” whimsy, and I admired Mitterand, even if he was a bit of a ladies man, so I don’t think this would be one for me.

    • Yes, I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t enjoy this any more than I did. It was the way Mitterrand was kind of drooling over a picture of a woman he didn’t know that felt a bit yucky…

  7. You raised some interesting points about the stereotypes. Based on that alone, I would probably be irritated. So I don’t think I’ll add this to my list just yet.

    • Yeah, I do get too picky, I know, but I am fed up with men being shown as being interested in careers and politics while women are just desperately looking for love… so out-dated!

  8. I enjoyed this little book when I read it a couple of years ago, but it has faded from my mind to the extent that I couldn’t recall a thing about it until your post popped up my reader. A whimsical tale, but perhaps a little ephemeral?

    • Yes, definitely a sorbet rather than the main course, I feel. That’s not a bad thing, of course, but I doubt this one will remain in my memory for long either. Still, quite enjoyable for people who do better with whimsy than I do…

    • Yes, I can see why people enjoyed it so much – it’s just not my kind of book, sadly. But I thought it was well-written and I enjoyed some of the stories in it a lot…

  9. The President’s Hat sounds perfect for me! I love froth and whimsy, the perfume section reminds me of a story I read ages ago and loved (but forget what). Ideal to read in between ‘harder’ books.

  10. What a great review! I particularly like it when you review books of a type you don’t normally read – this does sound like a ‘sweet’ book and yet you manage to make a fair few pithy comments, particularly the one about the woman that I can’t help but feel may have passed many other reviewers by – although this is speculation as I don’t recall seeing any reviews of this one.

    • Thank you! 😀 Haha! I try hard not to be too critical but it just doesn’t work – the keyboard takes control of my fingers! I reckon I’m much more forgiving of those kinds of things when I’m enjoying a book – once I get fed up, I find I start noticing all sorts of things to criticise…

  11. I like it. I would’ve changed a lot of things in my life if I found the hat. I’d probably get a few more pats things and a few cakes, too. And use it to make me play tennis.

    There’s a bit of truth in stereotypes…

    • I hope you’d have shared the cakes! But you may not need magic to help you play tennis – maybe you’ll be naturally brilliant. Do remember not to play it with your badminton racquet though…

      There certainly is! But only in the United Soviet Socialist Republic of Trumpland! *sings the Volga boat song in an American accent and runs off, giggling*

      • But….my badminton racket was always a Tennis racket, remember. I’m so skillful. Yes, I’ll be naturally awful, probs. You can have all the cakes. I’m on a diet, of course.

        *laughs* Socialist…I thought you liked socialism? It’s like the complete opposite, too. I think your confused on the matter. Or, I am. Which doesn’t make sense. For I clearly know a snail when I see one, I think.

        • You could surprise your coach completely by using a ping-pong bat – that should surely be worth extra points… Ooh, pass them over then! Are there any cannnnolllllllllis???

          Nah, Comrade Trump’s not a snail… more a slug! Haha! Socialism and Soviet Socialism are as different as… as… you and me!!

  12. I like a good whimsical read from time to time, and I’ve had this author on my list of authors to try for a while now. I think I’ll keep him there, but will be prepared to be annoyed at his gender stereotyping. I wonder how his other books compare in that way…

    • Certainly loads of people love it, and I’m never good at this kind of whimsy, so don’t let my negativity put you off. I’ve seen some reviews of his later book, and it seems that people who liked this one like that one too on the whole – but I seem to be the only person in the world moaning about the woman thing… odd, since I’m a very lukewarm feminist, really… 😉

  13. I adored this book – sometimes you just need a feelgood read. His latest, French Rhapsody is better – a little more hard edged and contemporary state of the nation feel.

    • I can see why people love it so much even though it wasn’t really my kind of thing. However I might give French Rhapsody a try sometime – he can certainly write well… 🙂

  14. Crams and scuttles! You wrote crams and scuttles! I’m dyin’! I shall now spend the rest of my day using those verbs for EVERYTHING. I’m now going to scuttle away from my desk, but a soda, and cram it down my throat! 😂

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