The Red Notebook by Antoine Laurain

Laurent Letellier is a bookseller. He runs a bookshop called Le Cahier Rouge, which could be loosely translated as, The Red Notebook. He has a daughter, an ex-wife, a girlfriend, a best friend that he isn’t quite sure deserves that status anymore, and a life that, while not humdrum, is routine and somewhat boring. He wakes up one morning and goes through his routine, not expecting anything out of the ordinary, when he finds a woman’s handbag, an expensive looking one, sitting on top a garbage bin.

The bag is in too good a condition to have been thrown away. He opens it, and finds that it’s not empty. It’s got an assortment of items, the kind that tend to collect in a woman’s handbag, but no phone and no wallet. So, clearly, someone stole the bag, took the phone and the wallet and tossed it aside. Laurent takes the bag home and empties it, hoping to find something that might give him a clue about the owner so he can return it. He finds a bottle of perfume, lipstick, a set of keys, photographs, a book signed by its famous author and a notebook in which the owner of the bag has scribbled thoughts and opinions, seemingly in passing.

None of these things give him any idea who the owner of the bag might be. He glances through the notebook and starts to read. He finds himself charmed by the person who penned those thoughts. She seems like someone he would very much like to meet.

This proves to be difficult, but he persists. A good half of the book is about his quest, about the way he puts all the clues together and figures out who the owner of the handbag is. The story of Laurent’s search is interspersed with glimpses into this woman’s life and what is going on with her as he tries to track her down. Obviously, he succeeds. I don’t think it’s a spoiler to mention that. What happens next is a story for the book to tell.

This is an intriguing tale about two likeable, if somewhat lonely people, who somehow end up finding each other. It’s a simple tale in its essentials, but it keeps you engaged because the characters are well drawn and the story is interesting and not entirely predictable. Like most of Antoine Laurain’s work, this is a thoroughly charming tale, well worth a read.

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