Tag Archives: Antoine Laurain

13 Best Books of 2013

You know it’s that time of year when all of the ‘Best of’ lists start appearing… I love browsing the lists, getting ideas on what to read next, ideas for gifts and just generally having a nosy to see if some of my favourite books of the year feature. I thought it would be lovely to do my own as I haven’t done one before – since I’ve read 53 books so far this year, a bit of a record for me, I’m having trouble narrowing down my list of favourites… So, with this in mind, I’ve gone for my 13 favourite books read in 2013 (in no particular order). I’m hopeful that next year I read as many wonderful books!

Top 13 of 2013

Click on the links to see my original review

Gone GirlGone Girl by Gillian Flynn

How could this not make my list? I absolutely loved it, and found it equally gripping and infuriating with all of its twists and turns! I read along with my book group, and have since lent my copy to many people, all of whom have really enjoyed it. It’s an intelligent thriller – hopefully I’ll find something as good to kick off next year with as big a bang as this felt like in 2013.

LIfe After LifeLife After Life by Kate Atkinson

I absolutely loved this book as well, the way Atkinson had structured her novel, giving main character Ursula repeated attempts at life, events repeating and changing thanks to the tiniest details and circumstances. I love the way it highlights how changeable life can be, and how each small moment can have a great effect on later events. It’s on a lot of the ‘Best of’ lists I’ve seen so far and I certainly think it deserves its place.

Burial_Rites_HBD_FCBurial Rites by Hannah Kent

This book was part of a very good run of audiobooks I listened to in the autumn, a début novel set in Iceland in the 1800s. It describes the last few days of Agnes Magnúsdóttir, the last woman to be executed in Iceland. I thought it was really evocative, and I loved listening to it as I think the narrator did a wonderful job capturing the tone of each of the characters and the pronunciation of all of the Icelandic names and places. I look forward to reading her next book!

The-Presidents-HatThe President’s Hat by Antoine Laurain (Paperback)

This was such a charming book, all about former French president Mitterand’s hat, and how it was found by a stranger and started to have a magical positive influence on his life. The hat flits on to other holders and casts its same spell on each of them – it’s such a lovely evocative story of France in the ’80s – I’ve passed this on to several family members and each one of them has been as charmed as I was!

9781447212201Tigers in Red Weather by Liza Klaussman (Paperback)

I adored this book, it was one of our book club choices and I think everyone really enjoyed it. It was part family saga, part murder mystery and I thought it’s sense of time and place was so evocative – I really felt as if I was back in the ’50s, sipping cocktails on a moon-drenched lawn. Another great Book Club read from 2013 – I’m not sure what 2014 has in store for the Book Club next year yet but I’m hoping there’ll be some more gems.

humansThe Humans by Matt Haig

The Humans tells the story of an alien sent to earth to assassinate a mathematics professor who has just discovered the secret of prime numbers, by an alien species who don’t think humans are quite ready to handle that information. What follows is a series of hilarious events as the alien tries to understand human culture; a love letter to what it means to be human and observations on just how ridiculous we really are. It’s warm and funny and intelligent and I would recommend it to all fellow humans.

vile bodiesVile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh

I read this as part of my Evelyn Waugh Month, as a way to get to know the work of a particular author I hadn’t read much by before. This book was everything I wanted it to be and more – it’s a comical, light-hearted satire of the young and beautiful of London in the ’30s. I think it’s my favourite of Waugh’s books and it had me giggling away to myself. I’m thinking of doing the same again for next year with a different author – I haven’t decided who that will be yet so please watch this space!

Pride and PrejudicePride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Yes, it took me years to get round to reading this, and no, it did not disappoint. Most people know the story of Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy but Jane Austen’s prose is the best way to discover it. It’s a witty classic, and one that deserves its place on best read lists. A book I imagine I will read again and again throughout my life and never tire of.

The Book ThiefThe Book Thief by Markus Zusak

The Book Thief is all about Death, and his grip on people as the events of World War II unfolds. It’s such an original way to tell the story and I became quite attached to the characters, even though I knew all could not end well. This book had me wailing, one of just a handful of books to affect me so. The film adaptation is coming out at the end of January next year so I will be looking forward to seeing it!

pereiramaintainsPereira Maintains by Antonio Tabucchi

Set in Lisbon in the late ’30s, this novella demonstrates how even the most unassuming of people can have the courage to disagree with what is going on around them. There is an undercurrent of menace in the novel, as the effects of the Spanish Civil War and the onslaught of World War II make their presence known, that Tabucchi builds and builds into a tense and devastating moment. One of those books that stays with you long after reading.

panopticonThe Panopticon by Jenni Fagan

I have praised this book to practically everyone who has asked what my favourite book of the year was. It’s a sharp, intelligent and warm account of young offender and foster child Anais, who is moved into a home for troubled teens, known as The Panopticon. The language in this book rings out and Anais is such a compelling character, who has experienced far too much already in her 15 years, leaving her jaded and cynical. I can’t wait to see what Fagan writes next.

just kidsJust Kids by Patti Smith

This was one of the first audiobooks I listened to this year and it was the perfect introduction. An autobiography of Patti Smith’s younger years in New York with lover and struggling photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, this was narrated by Smith herself and it was so moving. You could hear the emotion in her voice as she read certain passages – if you are planning to read this at some point, I would highly recommend the audiobook.

crimson petalThe Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber

I remember watching the BBC adaptation of this book a couple of years ago and being blown away by a new take on Victorian fiction, with its gritty detail. The book is even better, leading you through the London streets as you follow Sugar from brothel to ale house to higher places. You can practically smell what is being described. Sugar is an unforgettable character and I loved diving into her world. I have just finished reading Michel Faber’s début novel Under the Skin which was also brilliant – hopefully a review of that to follow soon.

For a full list of all of the books I’ve read this year, have a peek at my Books 2013 page.

We Love This Book have been asking book bloggers for their pick of 2013 books – read all of their recommendations here! What are your favourite books read in 2013? Anything you’re looking forward to in 2014? I’ve still to read The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton and The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. Aside from that, I will be sweeping my bookshelves and reading what I already own as well as getting stuck into my Non-Fiction Reading Challenge, to expand my horizons a little and read one non-fiction book a month. Does anyone else have big plans for their reading next year?

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Book Review: The President’s Hat by Antoine Laurain

The-Presidents-Hat

*I received this book from the publishers as a review copy*

I think it is actually the first proper review copy I have received directly from a publisher, via twitter. I think this was due to my review of The Confidant (also published by Gallic Books) which I read in September last year and thoroughly enjoyed. I was therefore more than happy to read this book – I’ve mentioned before that I like to read translated fiction and this certainly fit the bill. The President’s Hat (first published in France as Le Chapeau de Mitterrand) by Antoine Laurain was translated by Gallic Books – there are several people credited at the end for ‘voicing’ certain characters. I’m not sure exactly what this means but I’m guessing that there were several people involved in its translation, perhaps translating the account of different characters to give them distinctive voices. If this is the case, then it’s certainly an interesting approach to translation.

Set in 1980’s Paris, Daniel Mercier decides to treat himself to dinner out whilst his wife and son are away visiting family, and finds himself sitting in a brasserie next to none other than François Mitterrand, then president of France. On leaving the restaurant, the President forgets to pick up his hat, and in a moment of whimsy, Daniel picks it up and takes it away with him. He is very excited by the fact that he now has Mitterrand’s hat and is beside himself when he leaves it behind on a train journey. The hat is passed on to a young woman named Fanny who is on the way to meet her lover, whom she meets once a month as they embark upon a love affair that she feels is going nowhere. Next up is perfumier ‘the nose’ Pierre Aslan, who has spent many years living a numb existence, having lost his talent and inspiration for creating new scents. After another mix-up at the same brasserie visited by Daniel and Mitterrand, the hat falls on the head of Bernard – a man who suddenly realises his life is slipping away from him and going in a different direction than he would like, inadvertently shrugging off his right-wing acquaintances by asking that guests pronounce Mitterrand’s name correctly out of a show of respect for the President.

François Mitterrand pictured in the felt Homburg hat which is the star of Laurain's novel

François Mitterrand pictured in the felt Homburg hat which is the star of Laurain’s novel

This novel is a really charming account of a moment of fate in four people’s lives, the discovery of the hat, a magical object that when it is gifted into someone’s care, gives them a sense of empowerment and confidence and each person is left touched and positively influenced by wearing it. Just as Daniel thinks to himself “Wearing a hat gives you a feeling of authority over someone who isn’t” after having the confidence to speak up in an important meeting, each person feels strengthened by wearing it, and there are some lovely echoes throughout each account, of them looking at the hat, and the food that they eat in the brasserie described in the same way, suggesting that as destiny has been kind to the previous custodian of the hat, so will it be for the next. I enjoyed the story about Pierre Aslan the best, there was something a lot more magical about the effect it had on him and I loved the descriptions of the smells of the hat, adding another dimension to the tale that really brought it to life for me:

“The three smells were mingling and complementing each other in the heat. The perfect fusion, the ideal marriage. Pierre held his breath, then brought his face close to the hat. Time stood still […] The walls of the apartment seemed to disappear, then the paintings, the carpet, the television, the floorboards, the building, the block of houses, the quartier, the cars, the people, the pavements, the city and even the snow. Everything gone. There was nothing anymore. No 1986, no hours, no minutes.”

I was a little disappointed that the people who had been temporary custodians of the hat ended up communicating, by letter, as I quite liked the randomness of it all, the chance link between them and the way in which they may never know the true story of the hat, where it had come from and where it ended up. It seemed more magical that way. I did enjoy the epilogue at the end which puts a mischievous spin on all that has gone before and leaves you wondering about the hat and the power of the man who wore it.

President's Hat Design

Overall I thought this book was very enjoyable, charming and magical in places. It transports you to Paris in the 1980s and brings sights and tastes and smells to life. In addition to this I thought the design of the book was lovely, its thick textured cover and crisp pages, as well as the perforated bookmark on a flap on the back cover all make this a lovely little physical object, and one which I intend to pass on and share like Mitterrand’s hat!

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