Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Elegance of the Hedgehog

Of the many great Christmas presents I received (thanks Mom, Dad and Tim!), one was Muriel Barbery's The Elegance of the Hedgehog, a book I had been hearing of for some time.

The story of a concierge and a 12-year-old who are closet intellectuals living in the same Paris apartment building, who are joined by a new like-minded resident, a wealthy Japanese man, is — dare I say — elegant. I recognize that it is in translation, but the writing is still beautiful in English. Take this passage, in which Renee and Kakuro are out to sushi:

I am lost in contemplation of the masterpiece. The visual beauty of it is enough to take your breath away. I squeeze a little chunk of white and gray flesh between my clumsy chopsticks (that's plaice, elucidates Kakuro obligingly) and, determined to find ecstasy, raise it to my mouth.

Why do we go in search of eternity in the ether of invisible essences? This little whitish chunk is a far more tangible morsel thereof.

For someone who has been in a literary rut for much of the past six months (absenting In Cold Blood, Brideshead Revisited and Here is New York), I'm happy to end 2008 with a wonderful read, and should anyone in the area want to borrow it, by all means, ask. And good news — Barbery's other novel, Une Gourmandise, comes out in English in 2009. Bonne Année!

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