Thursday, February 25, 2010

THE ELEGANCE OF THE HEDGEHOG

 


The Elegance of the Hedgehog, Muriel Barbery, Europa Editions, 2006, 325 pp


If you are looking for plot, this is not the book for you. When you reach the end, you realize there was a plot, but it is deeply embedded in this novel of ideas, so you are not much aware of it as it is going by.

The main characters are somewhat artificially created and revealed through their first person musings on events which take place in an elegant Parisian apartment house (called hotel in French.) Both are pretending to be someone each is not while harboring much emotional distress. One is the concierge and one is the precocious daughter of a wealthy family in residence.

Yet somehow this novel has a certain je na sais quoi-very French-startling quality, which must explain why it has been a paperback bestseller for months and months. No less than three of the five reading groups I attend have chosen it this year.

I was reminded of the three Simone de Beauvoir novels I have read (She Came to Stay, The Blood of Others, All Men Are Mortal.) In American literature, a novel of ideas seldom becomes a bestseller, but in France such a style is more common, even when a stirring plot accompanies the philosophy.

If you enjoy ironic social critique, malapert young women, passionate passages about the value of art and literature, with a bit of tragedy and personal growth thrown in, I recommend you read Muriel Barbery's book. At the very least you will start noticing people around you whom you have simply passed by previously.


(The Elegance of the Hedgehog is available in paperback at Once Upon A Time Bookstore.) 

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