Let’s look instead at that romantic love that brings us alive, that quickens our step and our smile, that livens the blood, the love that brings us to song in the shower, that brings us heart to heart with another — no, with the other — that mystery of passion and devotion beyond any definition.
I’m talking about the love we feel in our very bones when we see the face of our beloved on a sidewalk on an April afternoon. It’s that love no dictionary can truly define, that love captured by the greatest poets, painters, and other artists who’ve ever lived. It’s that strange, eccentric love whose fierce powers jerk us away from our daily routine into a world of magic we’ve never before apprehended.
Requited or not, this love sweeps us out of ourselves and into the other.
This love transforms the mundane into the sublime. That mechanic in greasy overalls and engine-battered hands becomes a chevalier. That waitress whose knees ache and who smells of French fries becomes a princess in the eyes of her beloved.
That’s the kind of love I’m talking about.
And you’ll find that sort of love in Antoine Laurain’s The Red Notebook (Gallic Books, 2015, 240 pages, $14.95)
When out for his morning walk, Parisian bookseller Laurent Letellier comes across a woman’s handbag thrown on top of a garbage bin. After a failed attempt to turn the bag over to the police, Letellier eventually opens the bag. The purse is missing money and identification, but the bag does contain other belongings, including a red notebook. In the notebook he discovers observations that attract him to the owner.
That evening, Letellier’s girlfriend pays him a visit. She detects a scent from the bag, which Letellier has hidden, but he reassures her no woman has visited his apartment. The next morning, however, she finds a hairgrip he has dropped from the bag. She leaves him a note announcing the end of their relationship.
Meanwhile, we discover the whereabouts of the owner of the handbag, Laure. She is lying in a hospital bed, the victim of a mugging and a cerebral hematoma. Her recovery is slow, but she does eventually leave the hospital. Through some excellent detective work, Letellier finds her apartment and even watches her cat while she is in the hospital, but he then leaves before meeting her, fearing he may somehow offend her by his investigation and his view of her personal life through the notebook.
To say more here would hurt the suspense and plot of The Red Notebook.
But I must add that The Red Notebook impresses on several fronts.
First, there is author Antoine Laurain’s subtle sense of humor. Here, for example, is his description of Letellier going through the woman’s handbag:
“Laurent would never have imagined that a woman’s bag could have so many nooks and crannies. It was even more complicated than dissecting an octopus on the kitchen table. Several times he thought he had emptied a pocket only to find a lump at the bottom which turned out to be a stone, no doubt picked up at some meaningful moment. He found three of them in all, in different parts of the bag. And a conker, probably picked up in a park.”(Conker was new to me; it’s a used snail shell.)
Then there is the sense of the author finding some amusement in his story, a joy in living he hopes to share with the reader. He pokes gentle fun at authors and bookselling. He surely relished describing the notebook as red, while Letellier’s bookshop is called Le Cahier Rouge, which in French means “The Red Notebook.”
Antoine Laurain also gives us a book of mysteries. He describes those weird cross-connections we make everyday with the people around us. In his quest, Letellier, for example, must track down a reclusive author, Patrick Modiano, who had once signed a book for Laure. For her part, Laure must explore several bookshops in her quest for this man who returned her notebook and purse.
Finally, as a review on the back-jacket of the book states, The Red Notebook is “the very quintessence of French romance.” The story of Letellier and Laure offers us a story of love and destiny light and sweet as the brush of lovers’ lips. The Red Notebook calls to mind Nina George’s weightier novel, The Little Paris Bookshop, previously reviewed in The Smoky Mountain News. Like Laurain’s novel, The Little Paris Bookshop has as its theme “star-crossed lovers” and the yearning heart.
This past April marks the twentieth annual poetry month, inaugurated by the Academy of American Poets. April has passed us by, but the good news is that for those of you who love poetry — and I suspect you may be as rare as snowflakes in May — every month is Poetry Month. And for those of you who aren’t readers of verse, I urge you to give verse a try. Dig out some poetry in your local library or bookstore, or find it at dozens of places online.
Be daring. And no matter how old you are, be an opsimath. (“One who learns late in life”, courtesy of Stephen Fry in The Ode Less Travelled).