The Portrait

Gallic. Jun. 2017. 144p. tr. from French by Jane Aitkin & Emily Boyce. ISBN 9781910477434. pap. $14.95; ebk. ISBN 9781910477458. F
Parisian patent lawyer Pierre-François Chaumont is an obsessive collector of antiques; his wife, Charlotte, however, does not appreciate his hobby and restricts his objets d'art to one room in their apartment. Still Chaumont browses the Drouot auction house on his lunch breaks, ever on the prowl for new treasures. Until one life-changing day: "I had almost reached the back of the room and was casting my eye over a display of cheap trinkets and ugly paintings on the walls when I saw it." The item in question is an 18th-century pastel portrait of a man in a powdered wig and blue coat. What's remarkable is that the face is identical to Chaumont's. After a frenzied bidding war hilariously described, the portrait belongs to Chaumont, but Charlotte and their friends don't see a resemblance. Undeterred, Chaumont researches the painting's history and discovers that the subject was a nobleman, le Comte de Mandragore. When he travels to the Mandragore chateau to make further queries, he is mistaken for the current Comte, who has been missing for four years. Should Chaumont tell Mélanie, the grieving spouse, the truth, or is this his chance to exchange a humdrum life for something better?
VERDICT Laurin's (The President's Hat) fourth novel to be released in the States (but his actual debut) is a slight but delightful literary soufflé that fans of his other charming books will savor.
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