• Year: 1996
  • Publishers:
    UK – Fourth Estate / HarperCollins
    France – Denoël
  • Formats: Hardback
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The Hat of Victor Noir

Philip Kovacs, a teacher in Paris, returns to his flat to find the smell of his own fear in the air. Nearby, a woman at the tomb of Victor Noir, a 19th-century journalist, leaves a letter bearing Kovacs’s name in the hat lying beside Noir’s effigy. For Kovacs, the nightmare has only just begun. 

This novel transports the reader to a Paris by turns vividly real and strangely dream-like. Provocative, intellectually playful and sparkling with black comedy, this extraordinarily impressive debut intrigues, thrills and enchants in equal measure.

The reconnection, the enlivenment of a detached and mechanistic Englishman by exotic mysery. The Gaullist Paris Police Chief is an “expat” masterpiece in this clever, funny debut.
The Glasgow Herald
Adrian Mathews has created a modern version of the raffish, phantasmagorical Paris of Marcel Carné’s film Les Enfants du Paradis in this playful, engaging and entirely unsummarisable debut.
Yorkshire Evening Post
A seriously smart book
Literary Review
… fiendishly intriguing … a delightfully off-beat and unreservedly recommended debut.
The Sunday Times
… freshly written, sharply observed and pleasingly “un-British” in both style and content.
Q Magazine
… a first novel of considerable charm and cleverness … The novel is in many respects about language, and gently mocks the genres and movements so beloved of Kovacs and his fellow academics. ‘I always thought,’ says Kovacs at one point, ‘post-modernism was when your mail gets delivered on time’. He makes the joke wearily, as if he expects everybody to have heard it before. It’s not clear whether Adrian Mathews shares this academic ennui, but he provides more than enough entertainment anyway to put all that literary gas in a peep – or even in a hat.
Scotland on Sunday
Part thriller, part rite of passage, this dazzling first novel opens the door into a dreamlike world of mystery and mayhem amid the cafes, parks and cemeteries of Paris. … Challenging and entertaining by turns, full of wicked comedy and glittery wordplay, this is a story to be savoured again and again … a great first novel, one of those books that simultaneously compel you towards the finish and make you wish it wouldn’t end.
The Good Book Guide
a surreal account of English empiricism meeting French quiddity
Metro, Northern Woman
… an often surreal and frequently funny novel, The Hat of Victor Noir is intellectually playful and quirky by turns. … an intriguing black comedy with a narrative that snakes in unexpected directions.
City to Cities
Occasionally a book captures the mood of a city. The Hat of Victor Noir by Adrian Mathews is one such example – drawing on the magic and romance of Paris to create an engaging and enthralling debut novel.
Pure Fiction (Internet site)
… a real novel … The writing is intelligent, rich and entertaining: a very encouraging and unusual debut. Mathews realises, and his peers should note, that the world is full of dazzling stylists – but a good storymaker is a jewel.
The Hat of Victor Noir is stylishly written. Mathews’s observations of British and American expat life in Paris are sharp, and there are some fine descriptive passages of the city … this is a promising debut.
Times Literary Supplement
With an enviable grasp of a bewildering range of subjects, from life after death to Darwinism (which ‘doesn’t go down well at cocktail parties’), and quotations from Shakespeare to Paint Your Wagon, Adrian Mathews takes us on a surreal trip through the life-changing and hilarious events which befall Kovacs. The Hat of Victor Noir is a sparkling, surreal black comedy with as many layers as the city it brings vividly to life, and which celebrates ‘the improbable victory of life over the outer blackness’.

(The novel was selected for the ‘Dillons Debutants’ feature: it was also a Blackwell’s ‘Students Choice’ recommendation)

Dillons Book Review
Adrian Mathews’ ambitious first novel carries a weighty cargo of black comedy, suspense, erudite knowledge, literary game-playing and a dream-like atmosphere of gothic unease. … we’re carried along by his cleverly contrived plot, his neatly drawn company of characters, his ability to convey a sense of threat and his quirky, outsider’s-eye-view of Paris.
Time Out