I reread The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery last week. We had just discussed it in May for my volunteer book group, so I thought I would just skim it to refresh my memory so I could discuss it with some knowledge. Well, I read nearly every word again, and I made copious notes on sticky notes which are stuck in my book even now. Once again, like The Sense of an Ending, I really wanted to underline so many passages, but I resisted, even though it is my own copy. Hedgehog tells the alternating stories of Renee and Paloma as they go about their lives in modern-day Paris. Renee is the concierge of an apartment building filled with wealthy, aristocratic tenants, politicians and food critics, among others. Fifty-four year old Renee describes herself as short, squat, and unattractive, with bunions on her feet, who is, despite her station in life, very intelligent, an autodidact. Paloma is a twelve-year old who is exceptionally bright and who, in order to avoid living the rest of her life in the goldfish bowl of tedium that she sees is her only option as an adult, has decided to kill herself on her thirteenth birthday. These alternating characters share their adventures and activities, along with views and commentaries on their lives and the lives and characters of those around them. There is much philosophy and theories of art and filmmaking explored in this interesting and unique novel, and it is sometimes a challenge to get through, as it is difficult to understand everything the characters are talking about. I thought I would skim over those parts, the parts that I didn’t think were essential to understanding their stories, but I found that there were less parts to skim over than I had anticipated. I found that I was reading nearly every word on every page, and noticing subtleties that of course I missed on my first reading, such as the mention of camellias throughout the book, which I didn’t realize were going to be significant. I thought the book was really about learning to enjoy the beauty of each moment, and to, as Paloma says, make each moment “an undying”. It was about learning to build up, not destroy. Of the friends who met to discuss it last week, one person listened to it as an audio book, and she said that it was very difficult to understand everything the narrators were talking about. I can appreciate that, as it is not an easy read, even when you have the printed page in front of you. Another person read the book two years ago while she was on holiday in Cuba, and she remembered enjoying it, but that it was also sad. The third person had been really enjoying the book, but then got too busy and stopped in the middle. We didn't realize that she had not finished, so we discussed the ending (which I will not do here, as it will ruin it for anyone who had not read it). She was fine with that, and determined to make time to finish it. She, in particular, was a person I thought would really enjoy it, as she works in a field where the practice of mindfulness plays a significant role, and upon rereading the book, I discovered that this is exactly what this book is all about, living in the moment and appreciating all the beauty that surrounds you in that moment. I was describing my rereading experience to someone at work last week, and I suggested that this book is like some dishes: they are great when they are eaten first, right out of the oven, but they are even better the second day, when all the flavours have had a chance to develop and deepen. So I would recommend that this book be enjoyed once, then a few months later, reread it and appreciate all you missed the first time around.
Then I had to decide what to read next. I have a pile of books for review, a pile for the committee I`m on, and a pile of books I put on hold at the library. I was trying to decide which pile to select from, when I came across an article about Sophie Hannah, a British writer who has recently been selected by the Agatha Christie estate to write a new “Hercule Poirot” novel, the first time this has been done since Christie passed away. One of the books in my review pile is by this author, Kind of Cruel, so I decided that she must be a good writer to be entrusted with such a lofty project. I started this psychological thriller last night, and will write more about it when I finish.
OK, time to get on with my day. Happy Sunday!
Bye for now…
PS The tea is not as good as my original blend… good thing I only bought enough for a couple of cups.