Mr. Cornflower writes:
Thirty years ago I was living in Paris, on the Left Bank, in a little side street near the Seine. Our side of the street was rather scruffy and down at heel; the other side was already being transformed by wealthy landlords and residents. I stood at my window and looked from shabby carpet tiles and cheap furniture across to a world of polished floorboards and tasteful bibelots. Part of the magnetic attraction to investors was the location, in the next street, of the pied-à-terre belonging to the most powerful man in the country: François Mitterrand, President of the Republic. In France, as elsewhere, money follows power.
I had pushed this brush with greatness far back into the attic of my memory until Cornflower kindly put into my hands the charming and evocative novel by Antoine Laurain, The President's Hat. He imagines an ordinary man who by accident finds himself in possession of Mitterrand's hat, and from this spins a series of delightful tales about how the hat transforms the lives of the various people through whose hands it passes. The wit and elegance of Laurain's book should win him a much wider audience - you don't have to know anything about French politics in the 1980s to enjoy it.