I am almost nervous to write about the book I am going to write about. Why? Because any time someone says they have read the book that is now their “favourite” (European spelling deliberate to emphasize the inherent pretentiousness), it elicits cringes and eye-rolling. For a 35-year-old woman to declare she has a “favourite” book sounds so trivial, so sophomoric, so…lame.
Well, here goes. I have a new favourite book. It is The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery. The book was recommended to me by the person I am most like in this world, who is also the person I probably most respect in this world for his intellect. So it should come as no surprise to anyone that this is now my favourite book. But it did surprise me. As someone who was raised through adolescence on Sartre, Camus, Salinger, Dostoevsky and the like, I have a broad education in philosophy, literature, and darkness, and I didn’t think I could be floored by a novel at this stage of life.
Barbery has astonished me and brought me to my knees with this book. By far the most elaborately constructed novel I have read in terms of reasoning and vocabulary (I admit in the humblest way possible that I rarely have to look words up, and as I read The Elegance of the Hedgehog, I often had to), Barbery has captured the complexity of Sartre, the depth of Camus, the winding storytelling and emotionalism of Salinger, and the darkness of Dostoevsky. This is not a book for the impatient, the quickly distracted, or the person who likes romantic comedies.
This book is immensely elaborate, difficult, charming, touching, profound, and truly a work of art. I am certain that not everyone will have the reaction I had to this book, but I challenge you to not be deeply moved by this story. To describe the plot does not do it justice: a woman who has given up on anyone seeing who she really is, hiding her brilliance for fear of not being understood or loved; a young girl pulled from the pages of the Glass family of Salinger’s universe, deathly bright but tragically mortal. These two stories are interwoven so elegantly — a friendship and kinship formed that allows both to grow and confront love and death at once in a fiery denouement.
It is not only the best book I read this year, it is my favourite book ever. For all of those reasons and many more.
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