Sunday, August 7, 2011

the elegance of the hedgehog

Upon learning that a movie based on The Elegance of the Hedgehog (entitled The Hedgehog) is coming out soon, I've been reminded that this book has been on my to-read list for quite some time now.  It also started me on a whole train of thought about the Hedgehog and the Fox ("The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing"), but that's a whole other story.

Anyways, I finished reading The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery yesterday, and, despite my absolute love for Terry Pratchett humor, this was one of the best books I've read in a while.  I mean, I can see how it was a NY Times bestseller.  

One of my kinds of books exactly - completely relatable narrators and lots of philosophising: about Art, beauty, life.....yup, the kinds of things I like to think about, plus the kinds of things that I don't know enough about to philosophize about.  And all in gorgeous prose.  Admittedly I cried at the end of the book, but it wasn't one of those completely despairing endings.  Bittersweet.  But not completely depressing.  (For example, I didn't feel as depressed as I did when I read Girl in Translation, which isn't even supposed to be that depressing, I don't think).  The ending was sad, yes, but it held so much hope.  So. Much. Hope.  And redemption.

I mean, who can't love a book that waxes poetic on the joy of drinking tea for a page and a half?

"Yes, the world may aspire to vacuousness, lost souls mourn beauty, insignificance surrounds us.  Then let us drink a cup of tea.  Silence descends, one hears the wind outside, autumn leaves rustle and take flight, the cat sleeps in a warm pool of light.  And, with each swallow, time is sublimed."

and a bit on architecture:

"An open door introduces a break in the room, a sort of provincial interference, destroying the unity of space.  In the adjoining room it creates a depression, an absolutely pointless gaping hole adrift in a section of wall that would have preferred to remain whole.  In either case a door disrupts continuity, without offering anything in exchange other than freedom of movement, which could easily be ensured by another means.  Sliding doors avoid such pitfalls and enhance space.  Without affecting the balance of the room, they allow it to be transformed.  When a sliding door is open, two areas communicate without offending each other.  When it is closed, each regains its integrity.  Sharing and reunion can occur without intrusion."

and about the food critic who lives in the building (who, by the way, is the focus in Barbery's novel Gourmet Rhapsody - which I'm reading next):

"To write entire pages of dazzling prose about a tomato - for Pierre Arthens reviews foods as if he were telling a story, and that alone is enough to make him a genius - without ever seeing or holding the tomato is a troubling display of virtuosity.  I have often wondered, as I watch him go by with his huge arrogant nose: Can one be so gifted and yet so impervious to the presence of things?"

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