Fate in Fiction: Antoine Laurain’s The Red Notebook

How much of life is made up of coincidences? And is coincidence Fate? Or is it Chance?

I think these questions are at the heart of Antoine Laurain’s novel, The Red Notebook. When a guy called Laurent finds a discarded stolen bag on top of a bin, a bag that he later learns belongs to a woman named Laure—is that fate or chance?

On the surface, the story is one taken from life as people in fairly civilized cities live it from day-to-day. You get up from bed, go to work, and somewhere on the way, you see an attractive bag in great condition. That isn’t an everyday occurrence and it’s coincidence. A chance. If you came ten minutes later, the garbage truck or someone else could have taken it. Will you pick it up or ignore it? That is a choice you make. It’s not chance, but is your choice Fated?

Obviously, the question of fate or chance is a philosophical one, not meant to be answered easily. Or, maybe, not at all. Does it make for interesting fiction?

As in a philosophical question, the answer is one you can hedge by saying: it depends on the book. You can read the book for entertainment. In which case, your concern may be how much you like the characters, whether the plot draws you in, etc. It all depends on what you look for in your reads.

If I seem to be rambling in this review, that’s because this book has that rambling quality to it. Kind of like a stream of consciousness that one finds in many literary books.

So, how did I like The Red Notebook as a story?

The characters are engaging enough. They’re quite familiar, the type I’d find among my friends and acquaintances. Parisian Laurent does what anyone I know would do with the bag on the bin. He picks it up, realizes it’s been stolen and, being a good citizen, he takes it to the police station. But the place is too busy to pay him immediate attention, so he takes it home.

Will he bring it back to the police station when it’s not as busy? That is a choice he makes. He keeps it and decides to find the owner (Fate?). His interest in her grew after he read her diary (the red notebook), one of the many items in her bag.

The story, thus, is about his search and how he finds her. The writer pays homage to Nobel winner Patrick Modiano, another French writer, when he makes Laurent learn the identity of the bag’s owner from a signed Modiano novel in her bag dedicated to “Laure.” Finding a novel by a writer Laurent (and Laurain) admires—is that Fate or Chance? There are a few more scenes like this in the story  that make you wonder.

I read this book not for entertainment, but initially to ease a bit of my nostalgia for Paris—the same reason I started to read three novellas by Patrick Modiano. But induced by the question that, to me, underlies Monsieur Laurain’s novel, I finished it with a a bit of the existential angst I always carry back of my mind. Are the things that happen to us Fate or Chance? In this story, at least, I think Monsieur Laurain argues on the side of Fate.

My final thought about this book may or may not have been intended by Monsieur Laurain: In fiction, the hand of Fate belongs to the author.

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