The Elegance of the Hedgehog
Most authors try to tell us a nice story. They concentrate on the structure, take care of the plot and their language. And if they are good, then they show us a coherent world into which we can immerse ourselves.
Then there are a few authors who tell a good story while at the same time touching on profound thoughts. On some pages they sparkle with fragments of thoughts and puns that could make you laugh with joy.
Of course, there are also authors who have failed in this task. I will mention only two of them, because I love their works despite this weakness and have read them with pleasure.
Both crush the stories with their thoughts and remarks. J. Gaarder on purpose, because his book is an introduction to philosophy for children, which he has packed into a framework story to make it more exciting.
In Schätzing it is a cry for help, a cry of rage about the state of the world, which repeatedly interrupts the flow of reading and deprives history of much of its beauty.
Someone who has mastered this task wonderfully is the French philosopher M. Barbery.
In “The Elegance of the Hedgehog” she tells a story that is so true, so close to real life that when I read it, my eyes watered.
I am moved by the tale of an aging concierge who hides her innermost being from the world to indulge undisturbed in Kant, Mozart or Ozu.
And looks without bitterness at the people who don’t recognize them. Who only see what their eyes reflect and therefore laugh at them.
Like when a landlord asked her to take an incunabulum.
“Well, have a good time,” I say, putting on a disgusted face. “I’ll bring it to you as soon as the messenger arrives.”
The prospect of Pierre Arthens this evening giving his concierge’s indignation as a bon mot at his dinner table, because he mentioned an incunabulum before her and probably saw something offensive in it, amuses me extraordinarily.
God knows which one of us is more humiliated.
And I love Barberry’s idea of bringing criticism of the state of the world out of the mouth of a child. A thirteen-year-old student who has decided to put an end to her life out of desperation at the senselessness of growing up.
And those who fill their notebook with insights into the nature of people and society, with thoughts that are so true that I know that somewhere out there Paloma is walking through the streets and crying.
“From time to time, adults seem to take time to sit down and watch the disaster that is their life. They then whine without understanding, and like flies, which always bump against the same pane, they become restless, they suffer, atrophy, are depressed and wonder what wheelwork has led them to where they did not even want to go.”
And she explains it to herself.
“What goes wrong is that children believe adults’ speeches and that when they grow up, they take revenge by misleading their own children.”
But it’s not just these beautiful parts that make this book so valuable to me. If it were, it would only have the value of an aphorism collection.
But the story as a whole stands alone before us and brings its characters to life. She touches my heart, which is rare, makes me smile and wistfully think of days long lost.
And that’s more than I expected.
Reading again, leafing through such a book again is like a walk in a garden.
New things are discovered over and over again. Even if the garden always remains the same, even if the gardener does not move on any plant, it is always us who change and perceive things differently. And see them anew.
Isn’t there somewhere the theory of the creation of the world by whoever sees it? If not, then it’s a book worth writing.
Even now, on my third journey through Barberry’s work, I discover something new again. I see the path that the aging Renée shows us and I am prepared to accept it as an opportunity.
Your exit from the hamster wheel of bustle and the fight for a place at the top. A proud retreat into the world of art, words and music.
To follow his dreams, to live his thoughts and to be happy.
And just to live.
And even if the book ends tragically and leaves me angry, I am grateful for the gift Reneé gave me.
And I’m sure Paloma is still strolling the streets, a little older, a little more mature, but still with a glow in her eyes.