The Red Notebook

This sweet adventure (240 pages) was published in April of 2015 by Gallic Books. The book takes you to modern Paris. Melissa read The Red Notebook and loved it; it wouldn't be on our site if she didn't recommend it.

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The Red Notebook

Antoine Laurain, Jane Aitken (translator), Emily Boyce (translator)

If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to own a darling neighborhood bookshop in Paris, this is the novel for you. Bonus: It’s a romantic caper as sweet and satisfying (and endearingly flaky) as a pain au chocolat.

Our would-be hero Laurent Letellier is the owner of the Le Cahier Rouge bookshop. He’s a fixture in his Parisian neighborhood and has a routine that suits him. But one day, he finds a mauve handbag on the street. Was it dropped? Lost? Stolen? Inside, there’s no identification or phone — just a red notebook filled with feminine handwriting, ‘sometimes with crossings out, underlinings, or words written in capital letters.’ Suddenly, he’s in the grip of a small adventure. He becomes fascinated with the woman who jotted down her thoughts ‘as the whim took her, on café terraces or on the Métro.’ He makes it his mission to find her and return her handbag.

As Laurent follows the meager clues to her identity, he travels from police station to bookshop to dry cleaner and café, through the village streets of Paris lined with small businesses and neighborhood characters. We get to know his feisty teenage daughter, the gilder who applies gold to everything from an old picture frame to the dome of Les Invalides, the authors who frequent Laurent’s bookshop, and the city of Paris itself.

This could easily have become a creepy, stalker-adjacent story; even Laurent admits reading the diary feels inappropriate. But his motives to reunite the unknown woman with her red notebook are good-natured and kind. The author’s tidy, economical prose keeps the proceedings light, so it all feels a bit mischievous and quite magical.

As he left the building, he glanced over at the metal shutter of the shop. Shortly he would raise it by turning a key in the electronic panel, then nod a greeting to his neighbor Jean Martel (of Le Temps Perdu — antiques, bric-a-brac, bought and sold) enjoying a café crème on the terrace of Jean Bart. He would also wave to the lady from the dry cleaner’s who in turn would wave back through the window. Then after the shutter was up, he would look over his own shop window as he always did with its ‘New fiction,’ ‘Art books, ‘Bestsellers,’ alongside ‘Books we love’ and ‘Must reads.’ — Antoine Laurain

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If reading makes us more empathetic, then reading books in translation gives us super-empathy. In these beautifully translated stories, you'll meet unforgettable characters and expand your reading world.
We've said it before, but it bears repeating: Paris is always a good idea. That's why we're recommending 13 books that are like a magic portal to Paris. Wouldn't you enjoy a virtual trip to the city by the Seine?
In real life, dark secrets and potentially perilous passageways might best be avoided. But on the page, is anything more delicious than the tingle up the back of the neck that says an adventure is about to begin?

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