There is a scene in the film Pulp Fiction where guns-for-hire Vincent (John Travolta) and Jules (Samuel L Jackson) discuss the gastronomic worthiness of various animals by virtue of how clean or dirty they are.
JULES: I wouldn’t go so far as to call dog filthy, but they’re definitely dirty. But a dog’s got personality. And personality goes a long way.
VINCENT: So by that rationale, if a pig had a better personality, he’d cease to be a filthy animal?
JULES: We’d have to be talkin’ ’bout one motherf*ckin’ charmin’ pig. It’d have to be the Cary Grant of pigs.
For some diametrically opposed reason this scene popped into my mind as I finished this tale. The President’s Hat is the Cary Grant of novels (thanks Tarantino). It is so utterly charming; I was seduced from the first page. This quaint little tale starts in 1986. Daniel Mercier, a middle aged accountant decides to treat himself to a seafood platter and a bottle of red at a fine Parisian brasserie while his wife and son are away visiting relatives. Within minutes of his arrival, President Francois Mitterand sits down at the table next to him along with two companions. Mercier quickly recognises one of Mitterand’s dinner guests as the Foreign Minister and is bursting with excitement at his illustrious neighbours. He devours their conversation with as much gusto as his meal. At the conclusion of his feast, Mercier realises that Mitterand has left behind his distinctive hat and makes the impulsive decision to wear it home. This chance encounter has surprising consequences for Mercier.
This utterly innocuous premise reveals its intricate plot slowly in such a delightful way. The President’s Hat reminded me of Alan Bennett’s The Common Reader. Both tales are diminutive and comfortable but so deeply exquisite and beguiling. The inanimate object of Mitterand’s capeau really is the star protagonist of this novel. The hat itself is mysterious and captivating and perhaps not unlike Mitterand’s presidency, has a social levelling influence on those allured by it.
Merci Beaucoup Monsieur Laurain. Quelle magnifique!