My enormous thanks to Isabelle Flynn at Gallic Books for sending me a copy of Red Is My Heart by Antoine Laurain, translated by Jane Aitken and illustrated by Le Sonneur in return for an honest review.
Antoine Laurain last appeared on Linda’s Book Bag when I reviewed Vintage 1954 here and I’m very much looking forward to reading The Reader’s Room this year too.
Published by Gallic on 18th January 2022, Red Is My Heart is available for purchase through the links here.
Red Is My Heart
How can you mend a broken heart? Do you write a letter to the woman who left you – and post it to an imaginary address? Buy a new watch, to reset your life? Or get rid of the jacket you wore every time you argued, because it was in some way … responsible?
Combining the wry musings of a rejected lover with playful drawings in just three colours – red, black and white – bestselling author of The Red Notebook, Antoine Laurain, and renowned street artist Le Sonneur have created a striking addition to the literature of unrequited love.
Sharp, yet warm, whimsical and deeply Parisian, this is a must for all Antoine Laurain fans.
My Review of Red Is My Heart
An illustrated exploration of unrequited love.
Red Is My Heart is a deceptively simple book about love. There’s actually very little text, but what there is has been flawlessly translated by Jane Aitken so that there is a smoothly satisfying quality to reading it. The language is quite prosaic with jackets, coffee, airport tannoys, newspapers and magazines, for example, illustrating the impact of love. But that belies the depth of feeling in Antoine Laurain’s writing. Who knew that leaving a pen in a magazine from a waiting room could be such a cathartic moment in love’s journey?
Although the text is minimal, it is so well crafted and brilliantly physically presented that it enhances meaning and makes the reader even more engaged with the writing. The shape of the writing on the page – such as text about a 4 resembling a 4, or the layout representing stairs at the exit of the metro – provides a wry underpinning of meaning that I loved. The writer occasionally uses larger font as if convincing himself of what is said through emphasis. Some text is upside down or at a right angle so that the reader has to engage actively in reading, thereby experiencing some of the emotions more intensely. It’s as if the writer’s life has been literally turned upside down. Red Is My Heart has both poetic construction and prose, almost as if the writer wants to be a traditional tragic hero consumed by unrequited love but can’t quite hang on to that feeling completely. Towards the end of Red Is My Heart, images of keys and locks increase as if the author is finding out how to get through the locked grief of unrequited love so that there is a wry self-deprecating humour too. Alongside this humour, I loved the in joke of referencing the illustrator within the text.
Speaking of illustrations, they are startling, evocative and enhance the writing perfectly. I adored the sadness and loss represented by the black, the passion of love and a broken heart through the red, balanced by the white, demonstrating the invisibility the author feels in love, the sense of a fresh start and an opportunity for the reader to contemplate the text.
It’s actually difficult to articulate but Red Is My Heart somehow combines a a French passion for love with a typically Parisian nonchalance in a hugely entertaining blend. I think had the book been set anywhere else it would not have had the same impact.
Red Is My Heart is a beautifully written and dramatically illustrated book of lost love and desire. I found it hugely entertaining, witty and engaging. It’s a little cracker.
About Anton Laurain
Antoine Laurain is a novelist, screenwriter, journalist, director and collector of antique keys. A truly born and bred Parisian, after studying film, he began his career directing short films and writing screenplays. His passion for art led him to take a job assisting an antiques dealer in Paris. The experience provided the inspiration for his first novel, The Portrait, winner of the Prix Drouot.
Published on the eve of the French presidential elections of 2012, Antoine’s fairytale-like novel The President’s Hat was acclaimed by critics, readers and booksellers, who awarded it the Prix Landerneau Découvertes. The English translation was a Waterstones Book Club and ABA Indies Introduce pick, and a Kindle Top 5 bestseller. This novel, full of Parisian charm, was the winner of the Prix Relay des Voyageurs, a prize which celebrates the enjoyment of reading. Since then, The President’s Hat has been adapted for television in France.
Antoine’s novels have been translated into over twenty languages, including Arabic and Korean. Sales of his books across all formats in English have surpassed 180,000 copies, and The Red Notebook (2015) has become one of Gallic Books’ bestsellers both in the UK and the USA, and has been selected for HRH the Duchess of Cornwall’s Reading Room.
Also published: French Rhapsody (2016), The Portrait (2017), Smoking Kills (2018) and Vintage 1954 (2019).
Antoine’s novel The Readers’ Room was published September 2020 from Gallic Books and in mass market paperback in June 2021.
About Le Sonneur
Le Sonneur is a contemporary Parisian artist. His work tells the story of Paris and the people who live there. His artwork is often placed in public spaces with an invitation to passers-by to interact with the work, for example by picking up a key or calling a telephone number.
You can follow Le Sonneur on Twitter @le_sonneur, or Instagram for further information.