Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Elegance of the Hedgehog, by Muriel Barbery

I know I usually put the covers and links at the end of the post but seriously you guys, you need to just click through and order this immediately, and then we can talk about the review.
The Greek poet Archilochus said "the fox knows many little things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing." Isaiah Berlin would later write an essay exploring this idea via an examination of Tolstoy and his self-assessments, saying that Tolstoy's nature was that of a fox, but that he wanted to be a hedgehog. The title of Muriel Barbery's book and the entire story examines the beauty in that singular worldview of the hedgehog, and it is glorious.

The story takes place in an apartment building inhabited by many people, but it focuses on just a few of them. One is the concierge, an autodidact who hides her expansive knowledge from the people who live in the building, and a young girl who has decided to kill herself. These two are surrounded by superficial, flighty foxes (or perhaps fox wannabes) with whom they must interact. When an outsider comes to the building, both of their lives change dramatically, though this shift is strangely in keeping with their hedgehog-like natures.

I know that sounds like a total book cover blurb, but you have to read this and I don't want to spoil it. There's so much in this slim little book - philosophy, art,music, relationships, politics, society. The writing is beautiful, which is a testament not only to Barbery but to her translator Alison Anderson. When I finished the book, I flipped through the last couple pages like a mad woman, looking for more story, and cried for five minutes. I don't know how else to explain how powerful and lovely this book is besides that. I don't think I've ever been more upset that a book was over.

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