03/10/2009

L'ELEGANCE DU HERISSON, L'ELEGANZA DEL RICCIO, THE ELEGANCE OF THE HEDGEHOG


I usually do not like reading best-sellers or better I’m often disappointed by them. I can think of very few exceptions and I’m convinced I’ve just ended one of those few: THE ELEGANCE OF THE HEDGEHOG by Muriel Barbery. Actually, I read L’ELEGANZA DEL RICCIO, that is the Italian translation of this French comedy which was an extraordinary successful literary hit in 2007.



I am sure I have already written somewhere in this blog that in literature the “how” is much more important than the “what”. I mean, how the novel is written is much more important than what happens in it: words are more powerful than facts in my opinion. My pencil had a hard time with me reading this book and now its pages are full of underlined wonderful sentences and side or foot-notes.
The reader shares the secret thoughts of the two protagonists. Renée is a widowed concierge in her 50s who calls herself “short, ugly and plump,” a self-consciously stereotypical working-class nobody. She is also an autodidact — “a permanent traitor to my archetype,”as she puts it — who takes refuge in aesthetics and ideas but thinks life will be easier if she never lets her knowledge show. Even the slippers she wears as camouflage, she says, are so typical, “only the coalition between a baguette and a beret could possibly contend in the domain of cliché.” Her unlikely counterpart is Paloma, a precocious 12-year-old whose family lives in the fashionable building Renée cares for. Paloma believes the world is so meaningless that she plans to commit suicide when she turns 13.


It is a two-voice novel. Two women. Renée and Paloma. So distant for so many reasons but so similar, quite twin souls. The most significant feature they share is an extreme solitude due to the fact both have extraordinary sensitiveness and intelligence which they try to hide. Then they share a wonderful gift, that of recognizing Beauty when they meet it.


Someone has written this book belongs to a distinct subgenre: the accessible book that flatters readers with its intellectual veneer. Le Figaro has described it as 'the publishing phenomenon of the decade'. Elsewhere, there were comparisons to Proust. It sold more than a million copies in France and has won numerous awards. It is a profound but accessible book which elegantly treads the line between literary and commercial fiction.

What I can say is that I loved reading it. It was a delight! Muriel Barbery - a Paris-born one-time philosophy teacher who now lives in Japan –explores her favourite theme: philosophy as applied to everyday life. It is full of philosophical clever and profound remarks, art, music, cinema, literature references but it is also an amusing enjoyable comedy at the same time – I laughed out loud more than once! It is a pity I read it in Italian and I couldn’t find a good translation on line to share some excerpts with you. Don’t ask me to translate them. I wouldn’t dare. Ok. I’ll make an effort. Just a sentence, when Paloma decides to go on living and to forget about committing suicide:



“ … life is like this: much desperation but also some instants of beauty when time is never the same. It’s as if the musical notes created a time-parenthesis, a suspension, an elsewhere inside the here, an always inside the never.

Yes. It’s just like that. An always inside a never. Don’t worry Renée. I won’t kill myself and I won’t burn anything at all. Since now on, for you, I’ll seek the always in the never. The beautiful, here, in this world.”


11 comments:

Elvira said...

I wrote a long comment and I just lost it!! Well, I'll make it shorter now. I read it in French last year and I enjoyed it a lot. I immediately liked Paloma, but it took me longer to like Renée. I think you will enjoy a post a blogger friend dedicated to this book (there's a link at the end of this comment). She also LOVES English literature.

Have a nice weekend!

La elegancia del erizo

lunarossa said...

Every year I have a favourite book. A book that I would keep and maybe even read again in the future. A book that I recommend to my friends and that I'm proud to have read. L'eleganza del riccio was this kind of book for 2008. It was abig surprise and a fantastic reading experience for me. I'm glad you liked it so much as well. Following all that hype in France, somehow I dind't expect much of it. How wrong I was! Ciao. A.

Deleilan said...

I'm also rather distrustful of bestsellers, but was somehow convinced to give this book a try last February. It was full of unexpected moments — touching, funny, sad...

I especially liked Renée's quote about regarding crime novels as high literature; in fact, what I wrote in my latest blog post expresses my agreement with her (for the most part).

MARIA GRAZIA said...

@Elvira, lunarossa, Deleilan
Thanks to you all for contibuting your precious comments. I really loved reading this book and I'm glad I can share my positive feelings with you.Hugs.

Table Talk said...

Now how do we deal with the concept of the always inside the never when we think of those final words of King Lear? I shall have to go away and think about that one.

MARIA GRAZIA said...

@Table Talk
Well, Ann. Shakespeare is SO pessimistic as for Time and Man. Time always wins on Man. But we have the right to find strategies, avoiding strategies. We can't accept being always losers.-Have you read my philosophy in the right column? That's Calvino. HE too was rather pessimistic but never stopped looking for solutions and strategies. Thanks for commenting. Big Hug.

London Belle said...

I was recently given the boy in the stripped Pj's and the book theif - Im going to give them a go as I find it hard to connect to modern best sellers as I can with classic literature.

x

MARIA GRAZIA said...

@London Belle
I've just got the movie of the Boy in the stripedPJ but haven't found the ... courage to watch it so far. I know enough about the plot and ... have to find the proper time and mood to cope with it. I'm terribly sensitive!

Sabrinta said...

I'm thinking if read this book from months!Everytime I find a good comment like yours I decide to buy it,but I never did it!And actually I don't know why...

btw...hi!It's a long time I don't read your blogs...but now I'm come back!I hope you're fine :)

(always sorry for my english,I'm sure I made some mistakes...)

MARIA GRAZIA said...

@Sabrinta
Welcome back then.Don't worry for your English, it's fine. Thanks for commenting.

Adesivi pareti said...

I find it hard to connect to modern best sellers as I can with classic literature.