Saturday, September 5, 2009
The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery
I feel very emotional about this book. Not in a sad-weeping-despondent emotional way but more in a I-am-so-enraptured-that-I-can-scarcely-catch-my-breath sort of way. It is hard to compare this book to anything that I've ever read before. Reading it elevated my thinking to an aesthetic level seldom experienced by me, at least by literature. Perhaps I touched this level more often while listening to some classical piece of music exquisitely executed like Dido and Aeneas by Purcell (mentioned on page 275 by Renee), Suite No. 3 in D Major by Bach, or when my daughter and the Tacoma Youth Symphony play Jupiter by Holst. I was swept up in in the language. I was enraptured. This is a beautiful piece of work: literate, funny, and tragic by turn.
Here are a few quotes that I like a lot:
"Someone is playing a classical piece on the piano. Ah sweet impromptu moment, lifting the veil of melancholy- In a split second of eternity, everything is changed, transfigured." p.106
"Every time, it's a miracle. Here are all these people, full of heartache or hatred or desire, and we all have our troubles...- it all disappears, just like that, when the choir begins to sing. Everyday life vanishes into song, you are suddenly overcome with a feeling of brotherhood, of deep solidarity, even love..." p.185
"What does Art do for us? It gives shape to our emotions, makes them visible and, in so doing, places a seal of eternity upon them..." p. 203
"Melancholy overwhelms me, at supersonic speed." p. 279
Though I have gushed about this book, I must caution that I recognize that this is not the book for everyone. It is full of "big words", many that I even had to look up in a dictionary. Also, the plot of the story is as much about language, literature, Art (capitalized), music, intelligence, and insight as it is about two females that live in the same building that are struggling with how to get along in the world.
I will definitely re-read this book some day.
Adult fiction, translated from French. 5 out of 5 stars.