30 September 2009

I'm Beyond Your Peripheral Vision, So You Might Wanna Turn Your Head

Recently I read a book called The Elegence of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery. This book was originally written in French. It is actually Muriel Barbery's second excursion into the literary field, but I cannot find anywhere why this book took off like it did in the United States. I believe it all comes down to marketing. Europa publishing, the small publishing company that chooses a book every once in a while to really push in the United States, seems to have just chosen this one. Despite any obstacles this book is circulating in book clubs and coming off bookstore shelves all over the United States.
It's a story of a young girl and a concierge of an upscale hotel who are both hiding their intellectualism from the world. The first half, arguably the first two-thirds, of the book are a lot of cultural references which are vaugue at best and slightly pretentious at the worst. Madame Michel, the concierge, uses her facade as a member of the underclass to shield herself from possible pain. We only realize why at the end of the novel. Paloma, the young girl, is a member of the upper class and has come to terms with the 'fact' that life is a farce, and she doesn't want to grow up. The reader is told rather early (and it's fairly well advertised so I don't feel like I am ruining anything for anyone) that she plans on killing herself on her next birthday. Both the lives of these ladies are changed by the arrival of Mr. Ozu, an intellectual Japanese man, who sees through Madame Michel to who she really is, and teaches Paloma that she has something to live for.
Now, my own reaction was varied. I hesitate to recommend this to everyone for a few reasons. The biggest reason (for my Christian friends anyway) is that Paloma makes several references to God and his 'obvious' non-existance. It's not supposed to be about religion or theology, but it is mentioned. Another reason is that I believe when things are translated from the French (or from any language) some things are lost in translation and are a little hard to understand. A humorous example of one of these is when Paloma calls her sister's boyfriend, "A pustule." I know some people I could certainly apply this too, but I have to admit that that one has never seen the inside of my insult storage unit of my brain. Another reason is that it takes a long time for you to understand quite a few key things, like what exactly Paloma hates about her parent's life (she kind of comes off sounding just like a regular run-of-the-mill brat till the end) and why Madame Michel is hiding who she is.
I spoke earlier of the esoteric nature of the first half of this book. It's a bit hard to get through a book that is making artistic/literary/musical references that confused even me! Although if you want to try the last thirty to fifty pages are worth it. I cried.
Actually, honestly I hated this book up until the last thirty to fifty pages. I am very glad I didn't give up on it.



Scripture for the Day: II Corinthians 4:8-9 - "We are troubled on every sde, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; Persecuted, but not destroyed." (KJV)

Reading Recommendation: Many references are made in the book to Madame Michel's favorite book Anna Karinina so I wanted to make this one the suggestion. I know at least two very well-read people who also share a passion for this book. I plan on re-reading it and you should too.