Fiction from a philosopher

February 2, 2010 at 6:57 pm | Posted in Middle Weight Fiction | 1 Comment

Muriel Barbery ‘The Elegance of the Hedgehog’, Gallic Books 2008

‘The Elegance of the Hedgehog’ is a great read… but it has its ups and downs. It’s interesting… but a little frustrating. It follows the lives of two characters; a concierge in an upmarket Parisian apartment building whose intellect far outweighs her profession and a twelve year old girl who lives in the building intent on committing suicide on her thirteenth birthday. It’s got all the potential for a rattling great read. You really want to know why each character is committed to their position. You want to read about Paris. The references to philosophy, books and Japanese culture paint a magical portrait of the role of culture and beautiful ideas in our daily lives. It is definitely a character driven book which I love in fiction. The two lead characters are two of the most original characters I have met in a book in a long time and are superbly written. You understand completely why they each do what they do. This story promises (and delivers) a lot. However…there is an underlying current of dark notions about different classes in society which I found unnecessary and as a result frustrating as it detracts from the books other great strengths. All in all it’s a highly recommendable read. Muriel Barbery is a philosopher herself and this book shows philosophers are able to write intriguing fiction!

Haiku; Character driven, philosophical story, somewhat elegant

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  1. I found Sarah’s review of this novel ‘just a bit’ too generous! Interesting, original and superbly written characters, yes. And certainly an interesting and unusual storyline. However, a word of warning – you must have a strong interest in philosophy to really enjoy this read. Unlike Sarah, it was not the dark references to different classes in society which I found frustrating (in fact, I found this aspect interesting!). What really frustrated me while trying to progress through a captivating storyline, was the continuous philosophical ramblings of the author, which in my opinion were unrelated to the storyline, and really got in its way. I repeatedly found myself – shock horror – skimming through pages, to avoid falling asleep! Perhaps, as a logical and scientific person, my mind is simply unsuited to this kind of read. In disbelief, I read aloud some of the most offending pages to a scientific colleague, and together we gasped in horror… who could find interest in such nonsensical and pointless ramblings?, we wondered. It seems many could, but certainly not us. Somehow I managed to finish the book, which really credits the strength of the characters and storyline. However, I learned something important about myself – never ever again should I read a book written by a philosopher!

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