What’s it all about?:
Dining alone in an elegant Parisian brasserie, accountant Daniel Mercier can hardly believe his eyes when President François Mitterrand sits down to eat at the table next to him.
Daniel’s thrill at being in such close proximity to the most powerful man in the land persists even after the presidential party has gone, which is when he discovers that Mitterrand’s black felt hat has been left behind.
After a few moments’ soul-searching, Daniel decides to keep the hat as a souvenir of an extraordinary evening. It’s a perfect fit, and as he leaves the restaurant Daniel begins to feel somehow … different.
What did I think?:
This book caught my eye as it was on the Waterstones Book Club list for this summer, and with a premise like the above, who could fail to be intrigued? Based in pre-mobile phone i.e. the eighties Paris, the story follows the adventures of a very famous hat – the hat of the President of France, François Mitterrand. We begin our journey by meeting Daniel Mercier, an accountant by trade, very miserable and disillusioned in his current employment. On dining alone in a restaurant, Daniel is excited to discover that President Mitterrand is dining close by who then mistakenly leaves behind his hat. After procuring the head-piece, Daniel’s confidence increases ten-fold as do his job prospects.
The story takes a turn when Daniel manages to leave the hat behind on a train and it is picked up by a young woman called Fanny who is having an affair with a married man, and is feeling quite despondent that her lover will never leave his wife, as he promised her. Then she puts on the magical hat….
You get the picture. The hat passes to other individuals in this way, all with issues in their lives that they cannot resolve. I thought this was a genius idea for a story, and I loved how all the characters had their own story to tell. There was a wonderful part about halfway through where our first character Daniel is desperately trying to find the hat again, and he is corresponding with all the individuals that have had it since. This is produced in the form of letters which go back and forth, and were highly amusing. The author’s sense of humour is also evident when Daniel poses as a private detective to gain information from a suspicious waiter who mistakes Daniel’s 500 franc note as pre-payment for er…. “other” favours! A decent read which I think the French probably love, even if just for the nostalgia of one of their own President’s. Oh, and now I want a “magic” hat. Or the British equivalent – the Queen’s stockings? Er…maybe not. (Sorry, Your Majesty)
Would I recommend it?:
Star rating (out of 5):