The President's Hat by Antoine Laurain

published  2013     translated by Louise Rogers Lalaurie, Emily Boyce and Jane Aitken

She sighed, remembering she had not brought an umbrella, when her gaze fell on a black hat on the luggage rack. She looked around. There were only five passengers left on this late train, all of them sitting a good distance away from her. The felt hat could not belong to any of them. Fanny stood up as the train braked, took down the hat and put it on. She looked at her reflection in the darkened window. The hat suited her, and it would be just the thing to keep the rain off her hair.

The black felt brim acted like a visor, compressing the space around her and marking out a distinct horizon. In Batignolles, a man did a double take as he passed her. What kind of image was she projecting, walking along in the moonlight in her denim mini-skirt, high heels, silver jacket and black hat? That of a hip eighties girl, young, free and sexy, perhaps a little bit forward … She stopped to look at herself in a mirror in the window of a boutique. The hat gave her jaw line a new air of distinction... Perhaps she should...put on a man’s black felt hat every time she went out. Donning the new accessory had made her feel somehow powerful; it had the same effect as the designer clothes she so rarely treated herself to.

Hats – we’re always saying at Clothes in Books, they’re very important. You don’t need to know much about Francois Mitterand, former President of France, to enjoy this book, but once you’ve read it you want to find out more. He was of course very much contemporary with Margaret Thatcher, who died this week, and he made that famous comment about her having the eyes of Caligula and the mouth of Marilyn Monroe. (The attributes could easily be reversed if you look at photos of MT.)

After Monday’s The Girl on Paper, this book was a huge relief. Same publishers, another book with great success in France, and two of the same translators. But this one is lovely: a quick fun read, charming and affecting, and leaving you thinking about it afterwards. 

The setting is the mid-1980s – very consciously so, no mobiles, no universal computer culture, though an odd and almost out-of-place reference to GPS.  An office worker sits next to President Mitterand in a restaurant in Paris and is fascinated by him. When the President leaves, he fails to take his hat: the office worker picks it up, wears it, and finds himself a changed man. At work, he speaks up at a meeting, catches the attention of a senior executive, and his life is permanently altered. Then he accidentally leaves the hat on a train – it’s picked up by Fanny, the woman above, who is in a dead-end love affair and a dead-end life. Again, full of new confidence, she changes everything. And she leaves the hat on a park bench for the next person to find….

Links on the blog: Another hat entry here. The recent Oxford students were from the same era as Fanny, with similar clothes tastes.

The black and white photo is Mitterand in his hat, the young woman is from a fashion magazine of 1985.


  1. Moria - See? Clothes have that much power :-). This does sound like a terrific book. And now you've made me wonder who gets the hat after Fanny finds it...

    But really? A GPS in this novel? Hmm....

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  3. This sounds like a wonderful book! I just added it to my To Read list. Thanks for sharing! I am a new follower on Google Friend Connect.
    Happy Reading,
    Rebecca @ The Key to the Gate

  4. Moira - great pic! Thanks for linking it in. Cheers

  5. Love your photos and love your post. AWESOME!!!

    Stopping by from Carole's Books You Loved May Edition. I am in the list as #36.

    Silver's Reviews
    My Book Entry


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