16 July 2010

très élégant

Last month, I bought my dear friend a book for her birthday. A few days after her party I went out and bought myself the same book. The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery was originally written in French. It was translated to English by Alison Anderson. To be honest, it is the most beautiful book I have read in quite some time. I may have to read it in French just so I can get absolutely everything out of it. Even in English though, it is just magic. The characters are clever and the language is effortlessly intellectual and gorgeously constructed. I have so many favourite passages that I can't possibly share them all so here is just a small taste.

Humans live in a world where the weak are dominant. This is a terrible insult to our animal nature, a sort of perversion or a deep contradiction.

[A]s far as Colombe is concerned, life is a permanent battle where you can only win by destroying the other guy. She cannot feel safe if she hasn't crushed her adversaries and reduced their territory to the meanest share. A world where there's room for other people is a dangerous world... [a]t the same time she still needs them just a bit, for a small but essential chore: someone, after all, has to recognize her power.

I flinched when she said bring and at that very moment Monsieur Something also flinched, and our eyes met. And since that infinitesimal nanosecond when - of this I am sure - we were joined in linguistic solidarity by the shared pain that made our bodies shudder, Monsieur Something has been observing me with a very different gaze.
A watchful gaze.

We never look beyond our assumptions and, what's worse, we have given up trying to meet others; we just meet ourselves. We don't recognize each other because other people have become our permanent mirrors. If we actually realized this, if we were to become aware of the fact that we are only ever looking at ourselves in the other person, that we are alone in the wilderness, we would go crazy.

Quotations from The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery, translated by Alison Anderson. New York: Europa Editions, 2008. Photo from Google Images.

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