Heathercheryl Stevenson's Reviews > The Elegance of the Hedgehog

The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery
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Update after reading the book...it was the best book I have read in a very long time. Beautifully written, each chapter could stand alone as an essay or thought but also wove a tale that drew me in deeper and deeper. I was not prepared for the surprise end, heartbreaking but beautiful. I am going to read it again and savour slowly. ------------------------------------------------------
I read an interesting review on this book and am pasting it here to remind me to read this one.

I recently devoured Muriel Barbery’s book The Elegance of the Hedgehog. The novel, originally penned in French, follows a woman and a child who live in the same building in Paris. Both female characters are incredibly intelligent, and both go out of their way to hide that fact from everyone they encounter.

In the fifth chapter of the book, I was intrigued by a conversation between one of the book’s main characters, Renee, and a cleaning woman named Manuela. In the following dialogue, Renee and Manuela are discussing the apartments of residents in the building — a French family, the Arthens’, and a retired Japanese man, referred to here as Ozu. Renee begins:

“I’ve never thought about it. But it’s true that we tend to decorate our interiors with superfluous things.”

“Super what things?”

“Things we don’t really need, like at the Arthens’. The same lamps and two identical vases on the mantelpiece, the same identical armchairs on either side of the sofa, two matching night tables, rows of identical jars in the kitchen …”

“Now you make me think, it’s not just about the lamps. In fact, there aren’t two of anything in Monsieur Ozu’s apartment. Well, I must say it makes a pleasant impression.”

“Pleasant in what way?”

[Manuela:] thinks for a moment, wrinkling her brow.

“Pleasant like after the Christmas holidays, when you’ve had too much to eat. I think about the way it feels when everyone has left … My husband and I, we go to the kitchen, I make up a little bouillon with fresh vegetables, I slice some mushrooms real thin and we have our bouillon with those mushrooms in it. You get the feeling you’ve just come through a storm, and it’s all calm again.”

“No more fear of being short of anything. You’re happy with the present moment.”

“You feel it’s natural — and that’s the way it should be, when you eat.”

“You enjoy what you have, there’s no competition. One sensation after the other.”

“Yes, you have less but you enjoy it more.”

I read this passage and couldn’t stop thinking about my own home. All of my shoe storage boxes are identical, I have three matching vases on the fireplace mantel, and every piece of furniture in the bedroom is made of the same type of wood in the same finish by the same designer. Yet, in other areas of my home, nothing matches. The chairs around my dining room table are all different, the knobs on my kitchen cupboards purposefully don’t match, and my filing cabinet doesn’t come close to resembling my other office furniture.

When organizing and decorating your spaces, do you tend toward symmetry in design or do you seek out the one item that pleases you the most? I don’t think that there is a “right” answer; I am simply curious as to your thoughts on a streamlined space. Does uncluttered have to mean symmetrical or repetition of the same? Is different discordant?

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Quotes Heathercheryl Liked

Muriel Barbery
“If you have but one friend, make sure you choose her well.”
Muriel Barbery, The Elegance of the Hedgehog

Muriel Barbery
“People aim for the stars, and they end up like goldfish in a bowl. I wonder if it wouldn't be simpler just to teach children right from the start that life is absurd.”
Muriel Barbery, The Elegance of the Hedgehog

Muriel Barbery
“When someone that you love dies..it's like fireworks suddenly burning out in the sky and everything going black.”
Muriel Barbery, The Elegance of the Hedgehog

Muriel Barbery
“So if there is something on the planet that is worth living for, I'd better not miss it, because once you're dead, it's too late for regrets, and if you die by mistake, that is really, really dumb.”
Muriel Barbery, The Elegance of the Hedgehog

Muriel Barbery
“We musn't forget old people with their rotten bodies, old people who are so close to death, something that young people don't want to think about. We musn't forget that our bodies decline, friends die, everyone forgets about us, and the end is solitude. Nor must we forget that these old people were young once, that a lifespan is pathetically short, that one day you're twenty and the next day you're eighty.”
Muriel Barbery, The Elegance of the Hedgehog

Muriel Barbery
“..if you dread tomorrow, it's because you don't know how to build the present, you tell yourself you can deal with it tomorrow, and it's a lost cause anyway because tomorrow always ends up becoming today, don't you see?”
Muriel Barbery, The Elegance of the Hedgehog

Muriel Barbery
“Live or die: mere consequences of what you have built. What matters is building well. So here we are I've assigned myself a new obligation. I'm going to stop undoing deconstructing I'm going to start building... ... What matters is what you are doing when you die... ... I want to be building.”
Muriel Barbery, The Elegance of the Hedgehog

Muriel Barbery
“Where is beauty to be found? In great things that, like everything else, are doomed to die, or in small things that inspire nothing, yet know how to set a jewel of infinity in a single moment?”
Muriel Barbery, The Elegance of the Hedgehog

Muriel Barbery
“In our world, that's the way you live your grown-up life: you must constantly rebuild your identity as an adult, the way it's been put together it is wobbly, ephemeral, and fragile, it cloaks despair and, when you're alone in front of the mirror, it tells you the lies you need to believe.”
Muriel Barbery, The Elegance of the Hedgehog

Muriel Barbery
“Don't worry Renee, I won't commit suicide and I won't burn a thing. Because from now on, for you, I'll be searching for those moments of always within never. Beauty, in this world.”
Muriel Barbery, The Elegance of the Hedgehog

Muriel Barbery
“But the world, in its present state, is no place for princesses”
Muriel Barbery, The Elegance of the Hedgehog

Muriel Barbery
“Yes, this sudden transmutation in the order of things seems to enhance our pleasure, as if consecrating the unchanging nature of a ritual established over our afternoons together, a ritual that has ripened into a solid and meaningful reality. Today, because it has been transgressed, our ritual suddenly acquires all its power; we are tasting the splendid gift of this unexpected morning as if it were some precious nectar; ordinary gestures have an extraordinary resonance, as we breathe in the fragrance of the tea, savor it, lower our cups, serve more, and sip again: every gesture has the bright aura of rebirth. At moments like this the web of life is revealed by the power of ritual, and each time we renew our ceremony, the pleasure will be all the greater for our having violated one of its principles. Moments like this act as magical interludes, placing our hearts at the edge of our souls: fleetingly, yet intensely, a fragment of eternity has come to enrich time. Elsewhere the world may be blustering or sleeping, wars are fought, people live and die, some nations disintegrate, while others are born, soon to be swallowed up in turn - and in all this sound and fury, amidst eruptions and undertows, while the world goes its merry way, bursts into flames, tears itself apart and is reborn: human life continues to throb.”
Muriel Barbery, The Elegance of the Hedgehog

Muriel Barbery
“Just by observing the adults around me I understood very early on that life goes by in no time at all, yet they're always in such a hurry, so stressed out by deadlines, so eager for now that they needn't think about tomorrow...But if you dread tomorrow, it's because you don't know how to build the present, and when you don't know how to build the present, you tell yourself you can deal with it tomorrow, and it's a lost cause anyway because tomorrow always ends up becoming today, don't you see?”
Muriel Barbery, The Elegance of the Hedgehog

Muriel Barbery
“If, in our world, there is any chance of becoming the person you haven't yet become...will I know how to seize that chance, turn my life into a garden that will be completely different from my forebears'?”
Muriel Barbery, The Elegance of the Hedgehog

Muriel Barbery
“How to measure a life's worth? The important thing, said Paloma one day, is not the fact of dying, it is what you are doing in the moment of your death.”
Muriel Barbery, The Elegance of the Hedgehog

Muriel Barbery
“Thinking back on it, this evening, with my heart and my stomach all jelly, I have finally concluded, maybe that's what life is about: there's a lot of despair, but also the odd moment of beauty, where time is no longer the same. It's as if those strains of music created a sort of interlude in time, something suspended, an elsewhere that had come to us, an always within a never.”
Muriel Barbery, The Elegance of the Hedgehog

Muriel Barbery
“If you want to heal
Heal others
And smile or weep
At this very happy reversal of fate”
Muriel Barbery, The Elegance of the Hedgehog

Muriel Barbery
“Poverty is a reaper: it harvests everything inside us that might have made us capable of social intercourse with others, and leaves us empty, purged of feeling, so that we may endure all the darkness of the present day.”
Muriel Barbery, The Elegance of the Hedgehog

Muriel Barbery
“I am a complete slave to vocabulary, I ought to have named my cat Roget.”
Muriel Barbery, The Elegance of the Hedgehog


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