This was Nat's turn to pick and our first radical change of genre. I must admit that I do like a good romance as much as anybody and I have never read this author before so I was excited going in!
J'adore! Sometimes you need to read a love story. And to believe that good things can happen to good people. This is told with such beautiful simplicity. It is gentle and caresses you, like a soft cashmere sweater.
In a city of millions, are two souls destined to meet? I'm sure you've already guessed the answer to that. It's a tried and true formula. One that can either be ordinary or can lift your spirits. This is the latter.
With Parisian charm, what starts with the petty crime of a bag snatching, results in bringing two people together. Laure is the victim of this crime. Arriving home after a night out to dinner with friends, she doesn't even make it to her front door, when a hand reaches out of the darkness, and her bag is stolen.
"It would be streets away by now, snatched, flying on the man's arm as he ran; he would open it and inside he would find her keys, her identity card, her memories. Her entire life...Her hands could not seem to stop shaking from fear, helplessness and anger."
Laurent is the owner of bookstore. In search of his morning coffee at the local cafe, he finds an obviously abandoned handbag sitting on top of a bin, sans owner.
Being a good citizen, he drops it off at the local cop shop. With the police being too busy to attend to him, Laurent takes the mystery bag home. Determined to do his own detective work, with the intention of re-uniting the bag with its rightful owner, he opens the bag...
"He drank some more wine, feeling he was about to commit a forbidden act. A transgression. For a man should never go through a woman's handbag - even the most remote tribe would adhere to that ancestral rule."
Amongst other things, Laurent finds a red Moleskin notebook, filled with the innermost thoughts and jottings of the handbag's owner. Not meant for stranger's eyes. And we all have a red notebook somewhere, don't we.
"The handwriting was elegant and fluid... Laurent was fascinated by her reflections which followed on one from the other, random, touching, zany, sensual. He had opened a door into the soul of the woman with the mauve bag...even though he felt what he was doing was inappropriate, he couldn't stop himself from reading on."
What's not to love about a book featuring more books in it. And people who love books. In the city of love. Sigh.
There are some will they/won't they meet moments that made me catch my breath with how charming the writing is.
"Can you experience nostalgia for something that hasn't happened? We talk of 'regrets' about the course of our lives. When we are almost certain we have taken the wrong decision; but one can also be enveloped in a sweet and mysterious euphoria, a sort of nostalgia for what might have been."
"Like catching snatches of a far-off radio frequency. The message is obscure, yet by listening carefully you can still catch snippets of the life that never was. You hear sentences that never were actually said, you hear footsteps echoing in places you've never been to, you can make out the surf on a beach whose sand you have never touched. You hear the laughter and loving words of a woman though nothing ever happened between you."
Adore, adore, adore. Yes, there is a happy ending. And this is as it should be 💗
Antoine Laurain is utterly delightful. I'm so pleased I bought a bunch of his books some time ago. They were just waiting for the right time for me to start reading them. This is the first of many journeys I'll have with him.
Let me just start by saying, and don’t ask me why, but if a book has a bookshop in it, then I nearly always like it.
Laure realises how much the little things matter in our modern world when her handbag is violently stolen from her at 2am in the morning right outside her building. She has no key to get into her apartment, she has no phone to call her friends, she has no credit card or money to pay for a room in the motel across from her apartment building. Luckily the elderly gentleman at the counter realises that her story is a truthful one and allows her to stay in a room overnight and pay for it the next day. However, when the next day comes and check out time has been and gone the staff send somebody to her room. They find her in bed, in what appears to be a coma, with blood on her pillow from a head wound.
Laurent’s biggest problem is that his electric shaver is on the fritz and the water has been turned off for the day, leaving his reflection in the mirror looking quite dishevelled. Laurent is the owner of a bookshop that he bought off an old couple when it was a café. Because there is a flat connected to the shop, Laurent makes sure that he goes for a walk each morning for exercise. This morning he is bewildered to find a stylish mauve leather handbag sitting peacefully atop a garbage bin. Because it is enigmatically sitting atop the bin rather than in it, he can not resist the urge to open it and have a quick peek inside. Realising that it is full, and that it will either end up in the garbage when it’s collected, or more likely be stolen again, he decides to hand it in to the police, whose station is only a brisk walk away. At the station he is told to hand it into Lost and Found so for the moment he keeps it. That night Laurent ponders on whether to look through the bag or not. While deliberating he realises that he has never been through the contents of a woman’s handbag before. It just seems morally wrong, an unwritten rule, and by opening it he will have crossed a line and become one of the persons with dubious scruples.
Hours later he is still reading the red notebook that he found in the handbag. Guiltily he finds himself unable to stop, unable to put it down and stop reading. There is a great passage here,
“He had opened a door into the soul of the woman with the mauve bag and even though he felt what he was doing was inappropriate, he couldn’t stop himself from reading on.”
Amongst the belongings in the bag, Laurent finds a book penned by a reclusive legendary author, an author who hadn’t done any signings or interviews for years, personally signed to the owner of the bag. He now at least knows her first name.
Instead of losing interest in what seems a hopeless case, his obsession to find Laure grows and grows. It’s a format that has been done many times before and needs to be exceptionally written for it to rise above the other books of similar ilk. I am delighted to say that this is the case. As it is such a short novel, I don’t want to say any more for fear of spoilers, the narrative is brilliantly crafted, but to explain why would spoil the story. A thoroughly enjoyable read, which is very hard to put down once you start.
This was the fifth buddy read with Nat K and it was her pick. I would just like to thank her for introducing me to this wonderful author, I will be reading more of his work, and please check out her review when she posts it. 4 Stars!
We both ended up giving this 4 stars giving it a commendable score of 8/10. Beautiful enjoyable read, very short so you can fit it in in one sitting. Highly recommended.