The Red Notebook by Antoine Laurain

Translated from French by Emily Boyce and Jane Aitken The Red Notebook by Antoine Laurain

A hand grabbed her bag strap, a hand that had come out of nowhere… Within the first few pages of The Red Notebook we know things are not going to go well for Laure, a Parisian gilder. Late one night she is mugged and her bag is stolen—she can’t even get into her apartment—and she checks into a hotel. Sometime in the middle of the night she slips into a coma…

Laurent Letellier, owner of a small bookshop, finds an abandoned mauve leather handbag on top of a trashcan. When he goes to the police station to turn in the lost bag, he’s told he’ll have to wait perhaps an hour to talk to someone. Instead, he appoints himself “temporary guardian of someone else’s property.” He takes the bag home and leaves it on his sofa then goes on to start his day.

At the end of the day, Laurent takes a shower and has a glass of wine, and as he unwinds, he finds himself drawn to the bag. He does something he never expected… commits (as he calls it) a “forbidden act,” a transgression. He opens and goes through the bag—all the while saying to himself, “a man should never go through a woman’s handbag—even the most remote tribe would adhere to this ancestral rule.”

Inside, he finds a wide variety of “personal effects”—from hair clips to photos to a make-up bag (I don’t know about you, but I love reading descriptions like these, and I felt like I was going through the bag)—but he finds nothing that identifies the owner. Of everything, one item won’t let him go: a red Moleskine notebook. Filled with personal writings of hopes, fears, dreams, observations, and self-reflection.

I’m in. What writer wouldn’t fall in love with this book? The notebook alone would do it.

But there’s more. The character sketches in The Red Notebook are some of the best I’ve read in a long time. Of Laurent and Laure, of their friends, of Laurent’s love interest, of Laurent’s daughter, even of Laure’s cat. Meticulously written and described. By the end of the book I felt like I knew everyone well…and everything about the two main characters.

Back to that red notebook. Lauren becomes a bit obsessed. I’d even say he falls in love. Not just with the writing (he is a bookshop owner after all) but with the details of the woman’s personal life, even with the thought of the woman. Eventually, urged by his daughter, he goes in search of her.

Thank goodness this is a novella—short in pages (not in story)—because once I started, I didn’t want to put it down. Not just curious about what would happen (it’s an interesting story mixed with big doses of mystery and romance), but also because it’s charming and fascinating and just plain smart.

What will happen if the unexpected happens? Something good (or bad) that could change your life forever? Who among us hasn’t wished for something like this?

In The Red Notebook, it happens. It’s hopeful, it’s charming, it’s captivating.

Third, did I mention the writing? It’s translated from French, and I found myself drawn into the simple beauty of the writing over and over again. Not only by the language, but also by the expression of feelings that I felt captured my own feelings, like this:

Can you experience nostalgia for something that hasn’t happened? We talk of “regrets” about the course of our lives, when we are almost certain we have taken the wrong decision; but one can also be enveloped in a sweet and mysterious euphoria, a sort of nostalgia for what might have been.

You might be experiencing nostalgia for this book right now—and you don’t even know it!

Take my word for it.

This book is deceptive. It’s quiet and deep. On the surface, it’s a short but sweet romantic mystery about a man and a woman and a lost handbag—and that red Moleskine notebook. On the deeper level, it’s about love, loss, and longing—about life. And humanity. It’s a novel for everyone, but for a writer it’s even more. The Red Notebook is a deeply satisfying read—it’s a small masterpiece. In concept, in story, and in language.


Julia lives in an old house on the coast of Maine. She’s a blogger, freelance writer, and novelist-in-progress. When she’s not writing, you’ll likely find her at water’s edge taking photographs; you can see her photos on Instagram @juliamunroemartin. Julia’s an assistant editor at Writer Unboxed as well as a regular contributor on that site. Find her on Twitter @jmunroemartin and on her blog at


Have you read The Red Notebook? We’d love to hear what you think!

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