The Portrait by Antoine Laurain


I am a fan of this author and have read four of his books that I find very clever and quite fun. My favorite was the first one I read, The President’s Hat, that tells a tale of François Mitterrand’s hat changing the lives of the people who happened to have it for a time. I read this one because I discovered it is in the public library.

The Portrait is narrated by a man who works as an attorney, but who comes alive with his passion of collecting things, which he began doing as a nine-year-old. One day while visiting an auction house near his workplace, he found an eighteenth century portrait of a man who looked just like him. He researched the name of the man in the portrait and the next thing you know, he has abandoned his life.  He took the identity of a man who had disappeared ten years before, le Comte de Mandragore, a descendent of the man in the portrait.  The twists and turns of this book, Laurain’s first,  are more awkward than those in his later works.

I understand that Laurain himself is a collector of antique keys and that this book was inspired by his work assisting an antiques dealer. The list of items the main character observed at the auction house included “porcelain and rosewood chests of drawers,” a phrase that made me go down a rabbit hole online. Porcelain chests of drawers??? I did find a few for sale, one that was  5″ wide and 9″ high and another that was 25″ tall and 24″ wide. Though they did have drawers, they don’t really fit my concept of a chest of drawers.

Antoine Laurain, The Portrait, Gallic Books, 2017, 128 pages. It was originally published in French in 2007 with the title Ailleurs, si j’y suis. I think it is related to the old-fashioned term “Va voir ailleurs si j’y suis” which literally means “Go elsewhere and see if I am there” and means “Go away and leave me alone.” I learned this from Quora and it makes sense to me as a title. The Portrait is available in the public library.

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