The elegance of the hedgehog by Muriel Barbery (Gallic)


“Marx has completely changed the way I view the world,” declared the Pallieres boy this morning, although ordinarily he says nary a word to me.”

PERHAPS it is just my personal taste, but it seems as if a new form of writing is taking shape that perhaps does not categorises as instantly as say psycho-geography but we might call for the moment psycho-intellectual. Anna Burns, Booker Prize winning The Milkman might be a case in point which reviewers referred to as dense and experimental which might be the case if you are coming off YA fiction or chick lit or some crimos – tightly written, carefully crafted, a novel with purpose. I could make case too that Noah Yuval’s Harari trilogy as a non fiction variation.

I could place this one in there too being almost psychotically psycho intellectual tale of the Parisian concierge and the volatile charges upstairs in the apartments she services. “this frozen palace, this glacial prison of power and idleness”.

….in fact we have a pair of hard thinking females heading for a conflagration. What exactly is it about? The plot emerges out of a wild mix of cultural clashes, out of rambles on philosophies, art, beauty, place and social and intellectual standings. The word consonance comes up quite a lot which apart from meaning compatibility and agreement also has a literary connotation in that it is a repetition of the same or similar consonants in neighbouring words, for example fridays felt forlorn but fiery which is precisely the interaction between the two heroines here.

Madame Michel, the concierge is mired in her classical readings which she gleans boraciously from the library and finds herself also coming out into the pop culture of the modern world. Her favourite movie is Hunt For Red October. Her doppleganger upstairs is the dangerous teenage manga-reading, sashimi eating, haiku apostle who is perhaps her equal. If, she had a cat.

Sentences are long and rambling like a big intellectual scarf for a winter’s walk. Grammatically Mme Michel can, and is, offended, by a coma out of place. Grammar is a way to beauty, a thought echoed by both protagonists. There is something here akin to the brilliance of Ruth Ozeki.

“When something is bothering me, I seek refuge. No need to travel far, a trip to the realm of literary memory will suffice. For where can one find more noble distraction, more entertaining company, more delightful enchantment than in literature?”

Fine language and a credit to the translation by Alison Anderson for catching that Parisian tone and sharpening the waspish, black humour. On admitting their grandmother to an old folks home the granddaughter asks: “is that the reward for emotional anorexia – a marble bathtub in a ruinously expensive bijou residence?”. Another inmate makes a dash for freedom after dressing up in “a polka dot dress and ruffles.”

Beyond the upstairs downstairs elements of rich and poor, she finds, perhaps they both find, an egalitarian universe in knowledge and reading, united in, for want of a better word, culture. And finally we discover that perhaps there is a more delightful enchantment to be found elsewhere than literature, albeit it is right here. A lovely, alpha novel.


About drewsmith28

Words, words, words...
This entry was posted in 101greatreads, fiction and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s