I’ve recently finished The Elegance of the Hedgehog (2006) by the French writer Muriel Barbery, and give it an enthusiastic two thumbs up—wiggling vigorously. It was a huge best seller in Europe; not so much in the U.S. It’s hard to describe, and to save space I’ll refer you to Michael Dirda’s nice review in The Washington Post.
Short take: it describes the parallel lives of Renée, an ageing and unfairly looked-down-upon concierge of a Paris apartment building, and Paloma, a precocious and suicidal 12-year old girl living in the same building. Interwoven with their stories, which sporadically intersect, are lucubrations about philosophy and art, delivered without pomposity. (Barbery is a professor of philosophy.) You could consider it an “intellectual” novel, since it deals in part with ideas, but it’s not in the least turgid or didactic. In fact, it’s wonderful, and I recommend it highly. It’s one of those books that, unlike zombie novels, can change your life.
It was given to me by a friend, a college English teacher, who every couple of years sends me a book with the following message: “If you don’t like this, you can’t be my friend.” (The last one was Middlemarch by George Eliot.) So far I remain her friend.
I’m sure we all have books we consider so special that we press them on friends, eagerly awaiting their positive reviews. And how disappointing if they don’t share our ardor! I’ve had this experience most often with the novels of Thomas Wolfe (the one from North Carolina!) and The Raj Quartet by Paul Scott. But come the holidays I’ll once again be pressing Capote’s A Christmas Memory on you.
It’s time again to discuss what we’re reading. Feel free to post on a book you’ve just read and liked (or not liked). What books would you consider a test of friendship? These comments, by the way, are not a futile endeavor—at least for me. I have a big list of reader-suggested books for future consumption.