If Belphégor could speak

This is my review of La femme au carnet rouge by Antoine Laurain.

When bookseller Laurent finds a mauve handbag, presumably discarded by a thief since it contains neither purse nor phone, the personal possessions it still contains, not least a red notebook of quirky reflections, arouses his interest in the woman who owns it. Through a mixture of persistence, advice from his shrewd teenage daughter and sheer luck, he manages to discover her name, locate her address, even insinuate himself into her life. But will the real woman, perhaps tritely named Laure, live up to the imagined one? Will she be able to forgive an intrusion which has troubled some readers as obsessive to the point of seeming a little creepy?

What is essentially a light, whimsical romance with a somewhat contrived ending has frequent touches of humour or poignancy, and is given depth by some striking passages as when Laurent muses on the relevance to his life of a book title, “La Nostalgie du possible” Can one feel nostalgia for events which have never taken place – regrets for situations in which we are almost sure of not having made the right decision, as in a relationship?

References to real life writers may seem a bit pretentious at times, but I was interested to read about the writer and installation artist Sophie Calle, who may well have inspired this novel’s plot by her habit of following complete strangers without their knowledge in order to produce striking photographs of them. This led to the famous “Suite vénitienne” where she pursed a man to Venice, in a bizarre artistic inversion of male stalking of women.

An enjoyable read in French because of the flowing, musical prose, I would probably enjoy it less in English.

⭐⭐⭐⭐ 4 Stars

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