Monday, June 7, 2010

Rereading the Hedgehog

Muriel Barbery

I just finished rereading The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery for my book club. The fact that during this reading I already knew the ending made it a different experience altogether. I had much more time to savour some of its beautiful passages. And though many people didn't like it, I do think that one of the things that makes this book truly unique is its ending. It couldn't have ended any other way. I actually think that The Elegance of the Hedgehog has a very life-affirming message and in essence it reminds us that there is beauty everywhere:  in art, movies, books, interior decoration, music, people, sushi, rain, flowers, the tea ritual, etcetera...we just have to open our eyes and look.

Here's the passage about the tea ritual:

"The tea ritual: such a precise repetition of the same gestures and the same tastes; accesion to simple, authentic and refined sensations, a license given to all, at little cost, to become aristocrats of taste, because tea is the beverage of the wealthy and of the poor; the tea ritual, therefore, has the extraordinary virtue of introducing into the absurdity of our lives an aperture of serene harmony. Yes, the world may aspire to vacuousness, lost souls mourn beauty, insignificance surrounds us. Then let us drink a cup of tea. SIlence descends, one hears the wind outside, autumn leaves rustle and take flight, the cat sleeps in a warm pool of light. And, with each swallow, time is sublimed." (page 91)

17 comments:

  1. I have yet to read this book, but that passage holds the promise of a beautiful read.

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  2. Yes, that is rather wonderful - I will think of it when I am drinking tea later today!

    Thanks for sharing

    Hannah

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  3. You're right about life-affirming. There's this passage in one of Paloma's "Journal of the Movement of the World," in which she says, "Make every day undying." That was such a wonderful thought. :]

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  4. I really like this book-I love seeing how Renee hid behind her books and lived through them-notice how none of the writers she liked were French-Tolstoy her most loved author is hardly pro-French-the book is about stereotypes how they trap us-it is also a lot of fun and I love the title-I enjoyed your very perceptive review

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  5. I like the tea ritual that you quote; the book I didn't really enjoy very much though.

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  6. @sasha - I also liked the line "what matters is what you were doing when you die."

    @mel - yes its certainly interesting how Renee's favourite things weren't French...Tolstoy, Dutch art and Japanese films. Food for thought.

    @verity - I'm sorry you didn't like the book but you might want to give it another try at some other time.

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  7. Here's one of my favourite quotes too: "When something is bothering me, I seek refuge. No need to travel far; a trip to the realm of literary memory will suffice. For where can one find more noble distraction, more entertaining company, more delightful enchantment than in literature?"

    I ended up appreciating this book far more than I thought that I would and agree it would make a wonderful choice for a re-read: it was a perfectly appropriate ending.

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  8. I loved this book! I'm glad you did as well. I reviewed it a few weeks ago if you would like to read my review: http://literarymusings-blog.blogspot.com/2010/05/elegance-of-hedgehog-by-muriel-barbery.html

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  9. I LOVED this book. I marked my copy up so much when I read it. Unfortunately, most of the members of my book club did not like it at all and some didn't even finish it.

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  10. Oh - I never knew what the author looked like!

    I loved this book so much and have plans to re-read it (hopefully several times). I am glad that the second time was just as enjoyable for you as the first.

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  11. I love that passage. I actually know how this book ends though I've never read it (somebody spoiled it for me :\), but I want to read it anyway.

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  12. p.s. How's Little Bee working for you? There's a book that's got a lot to talk about!

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  13. I hear what you're saying about the ending; still, it was such a disappointment to me, I'm still reeling from finding her struck down in the street. Oh, how I wish it could have ended differently. But, I suppose you're right. It couldn't have been as effective any other way.

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  14. I enjoyed this book a lot, the writing is indeed beautiful. Have you seen the film? It´s very good, and I think Paloma´s character is more likable than in the book.

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  15. Beautiful passage! Thanks for sharing it. I haven't read 'The Elegance of the Hedgehog' yet, but am hoping to read it soon. I have been to a tea ceremony and it is indeed beautiful.

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  16. I have always wanted to read this book. I am making a trip to the book store today...maybe I'll pick this up :)

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  17. I think you're absolutely right about the ending. I wasn't expecting it, which is what made it, for me, great storytelling!

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