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)