I’m going to be honest. This is my first book review that hasn’t been forced upon me, and I’m no pickygirl. After finishing up my MA in English this past May, reading for fun, well, just didn’t seem like fun. In fact, after finishing my thesis, I decided to do more productive things. I bought a variety of plants and murdered them. I tried sewing (again). Failed. I wrote a few depressing songs. In the end, the one thing that became a sort of replacement was obsessive cleaning. I’d try to read, to pick up an old favorite like Jane Eyre, but I couldn’t get past the first few chapters. I’d grab a Philip Larkin poetry book, a David Sedaris memoir, anything that didn’t require too much time.
The Elegance of the Hedgehog is the first book that has cured my need to sweep up the dog hair in my house, every five minutes. (If you clicked on the image above, you can’t really “LOOK” inside. Sorry. I couldn’t figure out how to properly link it. Doh!) I read it in little bits over a three-week period. My mom and I had one of those dinner/date nights, followed up with a trip to the bookstore. We decided to pick a book and read it at the same time. This isn’t fascinating. I just thought I’d share how I came across the book. It’s cover won out. It had all the elements that make me pick up a book: nice color (dark blue), simple design (I hate all those busy and overly ornate covers), and an amazing title. In bright yellow, centered above a plain girl in boots who is pictured walking absentmindedly forward, the words, The Elegance of the Hedgehog, struck me. I’m all about weird titles and weird animals. My heart is forever open to all sorts of rodents: possums, rats, and even hedgehogs, all of which have found homes in my house at one point in time. I know. I know. Blame it on the “Ivy” life.
At first it took me a while to get into the book, but then I started digesting the language. The ideas are lofty. From Kant, to Marx, to Tolstoy, it took my little pea brain a while to wrap my mind around these “profound thoughts” being tossed around by the two narrators, a Parisian concierge named Madam Michel, who is secretly found out to be an “erudite princess,” and a young, overly intelligent and rich girl named Paloma, who also feels like an outsider at number 7 rue de Grenelle. Their friendship is based on their love for Jasmine tea, art, and their ability to see and understand beauty in the world, a beauty they feel is lost to the other inhabits of the building.
Here is one of my favorite passages, describing a moment where Paloma witnesses a moment of beauty (I’d indent it ten spaces like I should, but the formatting won’t allow me to):
There was a little sound, a sort of quivering in the air that went, “shhhh” very very very quietly: a tiny rosebud on a little broken stem that dropped onto the counter. The moment it touched the surface it went “puff,” a “puff” of the ultrasonic variety, for the ears of mice alone, or for human ears when everything is very very very silent. I stopped there with my spoon in the air, totally transfixed. It was magnificent.
A few lines later, she contemplates this image and the power it holds over her:
In the split second while I saw the stem and the bud drop to the counter I intuited the essence of Beauty. Yes, here I am, a little twelve-and-a half-year-old brat, and I have been incredibly lucky because this morning all the conditions were ripe: an empty mind, a calm house, lovely roses, a rosebud dropping.
After you read this book, which you most definitely should, I want to talk about the camellias, and how we’ve lost sight of them, how we’ve lost sight of that beauty found in passing moments like these.