Red is My Heart by Antoine Laurain & Le Sonneur

The Other Red Notebook?

Translated by Jane Aitken

I’ve read everything by Laurain that the wonderful Gallic Books has translated. I’m a big fan of his brand of entertaining novels, mostly driven by key objects be it a hat, a notebook, a tape, a portrait, cigarettes, a bottle of wine, or a manuscript – I’ve read them all! Some are light-hearted and romantic, some are darker, but he has a distinctive take on Gallic philosophic whimsy that just manages to steer clear of sentimentality, making them witty and so much fun to read.

The French edition – the title translates as ‘and my heart sank’. Love the Lui and Elle keyrings.

His fourth novel, The Red Notebook is perhaps the most romantic of his books, and you would be forgiven for assuming that Red is My Heart with its red covers covers similar ground. Although the book is a kind of ‘red notebook’ full of jottings, and it is undoubtedly romantic, the story told in its pages is of a rejected lover trying to come to terms with his new situation.

To tell this story, Laurain has joined forces with French street artist and illustrator Le Sonneur to create an illustrated prose poem.

The pictures in black, white and red, show the struggles of a man who feels alone, walking the streets searching for a lost love, often carrying a ladder. Everywhere he goes there is evidence of other’s loves, but not his own, it’s very affecting and the artwork does give the text additional resonance.

The text is also graphically presented: in small blocks, tilting, right justified, single sentences to a page, changing direction and font size. The man pours out his thoughts onto the pages as he walks the city, at one stage noting that his perambulations through all the bars resemble Dante’s circles in the Inferno.

There’s one thing I like about Dante, not that I know much about him. He met his Beatrice one afternoon and never saw her again. He raved about her for the rest of his life. His whole life based on one afternoon. He was consumed by love for someone he had never kissed, never held in his arms.

In fact, for a woman he knew nothing about.

It is interesting that Le Sonneur appears as a Banksy-style character, when the narrator comes across some of his street art. I did have a moment wondering how much of the narrator (if any) was Laurain? I’m guessing that this collaboration, published a couple of months ago, was a lockdown project, and thus reflects the feelings of loneliness and loss so many have experienced, which makes this portrait of unrequited love all the more touching.

This book is full of heartache, yet does often show the lightness of Laurain’s trademark witty and whimsical style, wonderfully complemented by Le Sonneur’s artwork which makes the whole more than the sum of its parts. I couldn’t possibly tell you how it ends, except to hint that no trigger warnings are required!

Source: Review copy – thank you! Gallic Books paperback original, 192 pages.

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