The Red Notebook by Antoine Laurain

Heroic bookseller Laurent Letellier comes across an abandoned handbag on a Parisian street. There’s nothing in the bag to indicate who it belongs to, although there’s all sorts of other things in it. Laurent feels a strong impulse to find the owner and tries to puzzle together who she might be from the contents of the bag. Especially a red notebook with her jottings, which really makes him want to meet her. Without even a name to go on, and only a few of her possessions to help him, how is he to find one woman in a city of millions?

For a slim book with only 159 page count, this is a well-written, delightful read.

The story opens up with a thrilling chapter where the heroine, Laure, whose name is not addressed in this chapter, is mugged and has her handbag stolen. She manages to check herself in a hotel room but is later found unconscious with a large patch of dried blood stuck to the towel beneath her head; she slips into a coma during the night.

In the mean time, Laurent, a bookseller in his forties and a divorce finds a woman’s handbag left on top of the bin. He attempts to report it to the police, but changes his mind at the last minute and takes it back to his room and decides to track down the owner of the handbag on his own. As his own ‘little investigation’ proceeds, the mysterious owner of the handbag slowly but steadily takes over his mind…

Like I mentioned, I enjoy this little book a lot. The first chapter is especially well-written and riveting with the perfect dose of suspense element, it pulled me into the story instantly.
That said, the overall tone and ambiance of the book is even and witty. Especially, Laurent’s consternation and trepidations were such a delight to read. The author’s sense of humor added a lot of enjoyment to the story.
I personally found ‘the number of pockets’ and ‘how much items can a woman have in a handbag?’ thing a bit of a stretch, but it didn’t take anything away nor did it spoil the fun.
The plot is, overall, well-crafted and the pacing was on point. It is simply amazing that I didn’t find it rushed at all for such a slim book. If anything, it’s rather slow-building and things develop nicely. I really enjoyed reading how the paths of the main two characters – Laure and Laurent (their names are pretty similar, aren’t they?) eventually entwine in the end.

I particularly loved how those two main characters begin to fall for each other. Their paths had never crossed nor have they never met prior to the incident, but from the moment when Laurent found Laure’s handbag abandoned, ever since he perused the items in her bag, he begins to imagine what kind of woman Laure is, and her existence and her presence which he hasn’t even known before – starts to occupy his mind and even comes close to an obsession.
And the same goes for Laure; after getting discharged from the hospital, her boss, William, makes a bit of a revelation and she also begins to track down Laurent in her own way, wondering how the presence of a man whom she had never met yet who was familiar with her belonging could have such a big effect on her.

Although there aren’t many dramatic moments in the plot which caught you by surprise, like I said, the overall tone of the writing is rather calm and even, I enjoyed reading this. The well-crafted, solid plot and the attractive cast of characters (some characters are a bit underdeveloped though) made this book a delightful read.

The epilogue is particularly noteworthy; it’s actually my all-time favorite.  It kind of reminiscent of a French movie, beautifully alternating and entwining fragments of the characters’ lives. Simply breathtaking.

If you feel like a quick read and are interested in reading a story that takes place in Paris, this might be good for you.
Not too sweet nor saccharine, but a healthy dose of romance might warm the cockles of your heart.

I’ll give this book solid 3.5, or 3.75 out of 5 stars on Goodreads.