April 11th, 2014


Book 78: The President's Hat by Antoine Laurain

Book 78: The President's Hat.
Author: Antoine Laurain, 2012. Translated from the French by Gallic Books, 2013.
Genre: Period Fiction. 1980s France. Comedy Drama. Whimsical.
Other Details: ebook 208 pages/Unabridged audio book (4 hours, 29 mins). Read by Luke Thompson, Peter Noble, David Timson, Sandra Duncan, Jane Collingwood, and Rebecca Egan.

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. - synopsis from UK publisher's website.

The novel is set in 1986 and the hat does not remain long in Daniel's possession but moves through a number of temporary owners, changing the life of each in a subtle way. Daniel is still very attached to the hat and does seek to re-unite with it.

The audio edition has six narrators, each voicing a section, which I felt suited this particular novel. While I listened to the majority of this on audio, I elected to splash out for the Kindle edition as well. This was partly because I was enjoying it very much but also I found that the subtly of the plot meant that I felt I'd not appreciated it fully via audio. Still, it was a short novel and I read it in a single sitting.

I adored it. It proved a witty, charming fable that was very Gallic in its humour. Everyone in the reading group also loved it, one of the only books in some time that we could all agree was a delight. We also agreed that there was a hint of magical realism in the narrative.

'The President's Hat website - website for the book contains a game of 'find the hat'.

Books 9 and 10

9. Catch-22, by Joseph Heller. Most people are familiar with the title, which has become a part of the English lexicon to describe a situation that is unassailable due to conflicting rules. In this book, Yossarian, an Air Force bombardier during World War II, is sick of the war and wants to go home. The problem is that he has to be proven insane to go home- but Catch-22 states that those expressing concern for their own welfare about flying cannot be insane, and that you have to be insane to keep flying. Yossarian is trying to convince his superiors that he is crazy but that is tough to do when most of those around him are nuts without even trying. The first two-thirds reads at times like an Abbott and Costello routine, with a lot of rapid-fire (if dark) humor. The book takes a more serious turn in the final chapters. I did not expect it to end the way it did. The novel suffers a bit from "book bloat," as a colleague of mine once put it, and there are parts that are repetitive. But Catch-22 offers a wry and pointed look at bureaucracy, leadership, truth, the concept of power corrupting, and that those who seem the most insane are really the sanest.

10. The Winged Tales, by Vladislav Krapivin. This is actually two stories, possibly connected (the connection, if it is there, is a bit ambiguous). I read a translation of these stories (originally written in Russian). The English translation is a bit rough in spots but the stories themselves are enjoyable and highly imaginative. The first story, The Pilot for Special Missions, involves a young boy Alyoshka, who winds up going on a fantastic adventure to retrieve a lost model ship for a girl he admires. The tale combines adventure with fairy tale (several fairy tales are mentioned) as Alyoshka seeks to find the model- and find out more about himself and his own destiny. The ending surprised me, but I thought it appropriate. My overwhelming thought while reading this was that I could so easily see an animation artist (Hayao Miyasaki comes to mind) doing an animation based on this story. From the woman with the hat collection to the young pilot on special missions, this just begs for a movie. The second one is The Magic Carpet, where two friends discover that a carpet given to them by the one boy's aunt can actually fly. Along with two friends, who join them on occasion, the two go on flights around town, where they discover an old house, fix a clocktower and face other dangers. Again, this story doesn't end the way I think it would, but I liked that. I like a good surprise.

Currently reading: Cat's Cradle, by Kurt Vonnegut (almost done).
Briana and Aunty Tara

Books 13 & 14 - 2013

Book 13: Glow by Amy Kathleen Ryan – 385 pages

Description from bookdepository.co.uk:
16 years ago, Waverly and Kieran were the first children born in space. Now a perfect couple, they are the pride and joy of the whole spaceship. They represent the future. The ship is their entire world. They have never seen a stranger before. Old Earth is crumbling, and the crew is hoping to reach (and colonise) New Earth within fifty years. Along with their allies on the second spaceship - who set off a year before them and whom they have never met. One day, Kieran proposes to Waverly. That same morning, the 'allies' attack - and Kieran and Waverly are separated in the cruelest way possible. Will they ever see each other again?

This was a really interesting, though at times, frustrating, book. The concept was quite cool, and something I’d seen pondered in a number of Star Trek episodes in various different ways. Kieran and Seth and Waverly are raised on what is effectively a generational ship, but there are poisoned people on this ship, and Kieran is little too religious for the atheist ship he lives on (the other ship, 6 or so months ahead of them, is the religious ship). Unexpectedly, at least to the children, the other ship, the New Horizon, has slowed down to match up to its sister ship, and New Horizon attacks. In a manner that is just a slight stretch (but its necessary for the purpose of the story), the majority of the adults are killed, and all the girls are kidnapped. What subsequently unfolds is a Lord of the Flies type story tainted by religious fanaticism and humanity’s terror at not being able to reproduce. None of the characters in this book are perfect, even if their intentions are understandable, and I really appreciated that. Kieran is annoying and has elements of one of the cult like figures, who starts to believe his own hype, but you can kind of appreciate that he thinks he’s doing what’s best for the community. Seth hates Kieran and its not necessarily hard to understand why, though he takes his dislike way too far. Waverly is caught in the middle, and she often appears the voice of reason, but she too suffers and makes questionable decisions. All are put in inevitable positions, and its fascinating to see them cope. This is the first in a trilogy, and definitely an interesting sci-fi version of Lord of the Flies. Worth a look.

13 / 50 books. 26% done!

5064 / 15000 pages. 34% done!

Book 14: Before Ever After by Samantha Sotto – 294 pages

Description from bookdepository.co.uk:
Three years after her husband Max's death, Shelley feels no more adjusted to being a widow than she did that first terrible day. That is, until the doorbell rings. Standing on her front step is a young man who looks so much like Max-same smile, same eyes, same age, same adorable bump in his nose-he could be Max's long-lost relation. He introduces himself as Paolo, an Italian editor of American coffee table books, and shows Shelley some childhood photos. Paolo tells her that the man in the photos, the bearded man who Paolo says is his grandfather though he never seems to age, is Max. "Her" Max. And he is alive and well. As outrageous as Paolo's claims seem-how could her husband be alive? And if he is, why hasn't he looked her up? - Shelley desperately wants to know the truth. She and Paolo jet across the globe to track Max down-if it is "really" Max- and along the way, Shelley recounts the European package tour where they had met. As she relives Max's stories of bloody Parisian barricades, medieval Austrian kitchens, and buried Roman boathouses, Shelley begins to piece together the story of who her husband was and what these new revelations mean for her "happily ever after." And as she and Paolo get closer to the truth, Shelley discovers that not all stories end where they are supposed to.

I’m not sure what I expected, but this was a really beautiful story. Shelley’s beloved husband Max dies in an explosion on a train. Three years later, a man comes to her door who looks just like Max. Shelley is shocked when this man, Paolo, tells her that he is Max’s grandson. So begins two stories: the story of how Shelley and Max met, and the story of how it is that Max could possibly have a grandson. It’s a very clever story, but also very beautiful, and I certainly wasn’t expecting the ending. Max’s story is a reflection on what makes a life. Shelley’s love for her husband is one of those special one of a kind type of loves. Max’s stories, told in the flashbacks that explain how Max and Shelley meet, are obscure little tales that you almost wish were real. It’s a whimsical, meandering kind of story with a beautiful heart.

14 / 50 books. 28% done!

5358 / 15000 pages. 36% done!

Currently reading:
-        The Other Queen by Philippa Gregory – 437 pages
-        Celebrity Crimes: The Dark Side of the Limelight by Xavier Waterkeyn – 233 pages
-        A Series of Unfortunate Events: Book the Fifth: The Austere Academy by Lemony Snicket – 221 pages

And coming up:
-        The Second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant: Volume 3: White Gold Wielder by Stephen Donaldson – 500 pages
-        The Odyssey by Homer – 324 pages
-        One for the Money by Janet Evanovich – 290 pages