Thursday, January 05, 2012

Book 1 Review: The Elegance of the Hedgehog

I may be cheating a little bit with this book as I started it sometime in December. I am allowing myself to include it in my 2012 Reading Challenge because I finished it two nights ago. So, I am only sort of cheating.

"The Elegance of the Hedgehog"
by Muriel Barbery

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This book took me longer to finish than I like with a book. It was not "unreadable" however. Just challenging. You may recall my problem about a year or so ago (if I mentioned it, which I believe I did, although forgive me if I am mistaken and didn't) of being stuck in a genre rut. For a few years I read only Amish novels. I drank them up. I read just about everything I could lay my hands on. I bored myself to tears with them. (Yes, I did.) While I dreamed of living as an Amish woman, reading strictly Amish novels for over two years sucked me dry. I needed a drastic change.

Along came a dear friend of mine who listed some of her favorite authors for me. I actually tried new books. I joined a book club and, again, tried new books. I found that there is so much more in the world for me aside from Amish novels or Grace Livingston Hill. But I have filled my head with such "twaddle" for many years that reading a good, challenging book...well...challenges me.

And that's a good thing.

So, I love this book because of the large vocabulary. The amazing thing to me was that the book was originally written in French. I read the translation. It was fantastic. I don't fully comprehend how you can translate a book from its original language and still maintain the humor the author intended, especially when that humor involves grammar and language itself. I found that fact alone fascinating.

Now I do not happen to agree with everything philosophical in the book. While I do not believe in "religion" per se, I do believe God exists and is very real. So, to read a different point of view as if it were absolute fact can be difficult for me.

The hardest notion for me to wrap my brain around was the intelligence of a certain 12 year old girl. (The story is written from the perspective of a 50 something year old lady and a 12 year old girl.) The girl wrote in her "journal" during her portions of the story and was extremely intelligent for one so young. I just couldn't believe some of the ideas and words this child knew and understood. I kept thinking to myself, "What 12 year old knows and understands this?" I guess that's what made her so unique, but for me it made the plot a bit unbelievable. "Yeah, right!" I often thought sarcastically to myself.

Anyway, here is one of my favorite quotes from the book.

“The tea ritual: such a precise repetition of the same gestures and the same tastes; accession 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 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.”

Okay. It involved tea. I know. Every time I read about the art of taking tea in a novel, I can't help but smile to myself, put down my book and brew myself a cuppa. There is just something about a cup of tea that warms the soul.

And my other favorite quote from the book...

“The only purpose of cats is that they constitute mobile decorative objects.”

When I read this line, I actually chuckled out loud.

A book about grammar, art, cats (and a bit about dogs), tea, friendship...what is not to love?

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