I feel I may be a bit defective as a woman. I hate buying shoes (I can barely walk in heels) and don’t really like hot chocolate. And I don’t really understand all the fuss about Paris. I quite like it as a city, the galleries are great, but I don’t really find it as romantic as Venice, Barcelona or even Manchester. And I’ve never been all that impressed by the food – which is a really important thing for me. In short it wouldn’t be the best place to whisk me off to for a surprise Valentine’s weekend (in fact I’m not even that bothered about Valentines….). France I love, but Paris? I can take it or leave it…
So, I picked up Antoine Laurain’s slim little volume without any major stars in my eyes and with just the hope of a pleasant read. What I got was a delight. The story is, basically, how the two main characters, Laurent and Laure, meet. Which is via the contents of Laure’s handbag when Laurent finds it abandoned by her mugger. There is nothing in there which can identify her apart from a red moleskine notebook with her thoughts and fears, a book recently signed by a famously reclusive author and a hieroglyphic charm. This makes the book sound rather like a detective novel and, in some ways, it is. But it is one which is sophisticated. Literary. And very Parisian. I mean, at one point there are characters eating trendy bohemian food and discussing the global economic crisis.
I liked the characters in the book. Laurent is charming, intelligent and rather lonely despite his rather needy, high-maintenence girlfriend and a daughter who is 15 going on 30. I realised part way through the story that books are his real friends, loves and family (and, obviously, I’m cool with that) and by the end I was contemplating how much of our personality is expressed through our stuff. Our homes, the contents of our bags, our bookcases are all a reflection of who we really are. Laure is a little harder to know – after all she is in a coma for much of the time – but her thoughts in her notebook fascinated me and showed her to be a sensitive, quirky woman. Like Laurent, however, she seems lonely and I was left contemplating how we can keep an eye on vulnerable friends, family and neighbours. How do we try to maintain a real community in a big modern city?
Paris has never felt like a cosy city to me. I have never felt a sense of community in my dealings with it (which, to be fair, have only ever been in a tourist capacity) but next time I visit I will remember this story and, hopefully, will feel a lot more warmly towards it.