Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Book review: The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery

Once in a while you read a book that is wonderful in a very unusual way. A book that is challenging in its way of dealing with life's big stories as well as the little things of everyday life, a book that makes you think philosophical thoughts that would otherwise not have crossed your mind, a book that keeps on living in your head after you close the last page after hours of smiles, sadness, fun, and internal laughter. This is a book like that.

If I ever have to restrict my fiction library to only 10 books, this will be one of them. I think I can read this book many times over and over and love it every time, and it would also be different every time. It is like layers you peel of the onion, you see more and more of what is inside and get a deeper meaning.

The story is both simple and complex. A young girl lives in an apartment building with many rich families in Paris and she is highly intellectual but has decided that life is not worth living, since what most people focus on is superficiality and banal things (especially her older sister is like this).

On the first floor of the building is the concierge, an older widowed woman that towards the rest of the world just tries to act like the normal boring, uneducated housekeeper people expect, but in secret she reads philosophy at the library, listens to classic music, and loves Japanese movies. But the keeps up the appearances not to disturb the set ways in the building.

Then one day a Japanese man moves in, and things are suddenly different. He changes the lives of both the suicidal girl and the concierge, and I won't tell you how, for that you will have to read the book. But I can tell you that is is extremely critical of the people that 'have it all', and gives justice to the people in the world that really think and care about life regardless of class, income, and age.

"Madame Michel has the elegance of the hedgehog: on the outside, she is covered in quills, a real fortress, but my gut feeling is that on the inside, she has the same simple refinement as the hedgehog: a deceptively indolent little creature, fiercely solitary - and terribly elegant. " [about the concierge]

As far as I can see, only psychoanalysis can compete with Christians in their love of drawn-out suffering. [says the 12-year old Paloma]

Where is beauty to be found? In great things that, like everything else, are doomed to die, or in small things that aspire to nothing, yet know how to set a jewel of infinity in a single moment? [about drinking tea, among other things]

The language in the book is so beautiful that you want to underline sentences here and there and make comments in the margin all the time. It is not just a story about people, the book is about how we live life, how we look at life, how we look at objects, art, music, ourselves, our inefficiencies, our fears, and our loves. I loved this book. And still, I think I only really understood about half of what was in it, so I am looking forward to read it again.

No comments: