THE ELEGANCE OF THE HEDGEHOG
Muriel Barbery / trnsltd by Alison Anderson
Europa Editions, 2008. 325 p. Fiction
With a title of such exquisite perfection, what follows can either be esoteric nonsense or an ambrosial cocktail of language the very gods of literature would weep to hear--and I venture it is the latter. Moreover, it’s funny--the most delirious joy of humor. At first I despaired and believed I would need another course in Philosophy to understand it, and I’ve done that—twice. But still I needed a dictionary and a google search and more brain than I can find currently. But persevere and as in all good things, your patience will be rewarded.
Oh yes, the story. Well, it has to do with a middle-aged, French concierge named Madame Michel and a very intelligent little girl who lives in her oh-so exclusive building and is possessed of an existential angst and in the middle of living in their separate worlds along comes a Japanese gentleman called Monsieur Oku who brings them together. Because he understands them. That is all. But it is everything--the crux of our desire. And of course there is the hedgehog, which either plays a very small role or a very large one depending on how you look at it. It's an award-winning international best-seller.
Within a book where on every page you find a beautiful line, and almost always two and usually three, it was difficult to choose, but “…the aristocracy of the heart is a contagious emotion,” is merely one such sublime example of syntax to whet your appetite.
Maybe Barbery is the reason words were created as the luscious quality of her writing is akin to poetic brilliance. What could only have made the experience more lovely would be to have read it in the original French, but perhaps the already "silken" syllables would have rendered it too beautiful to bear. Please…read this book. And then call me and we’ll have a cup of tea with some patisserie and look at a camellia. Remember it is French, a people who do not believe in happy endings.