Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Literature in Translation

I'm afraid I'm going to be a bit of a shadow figure for the next couple of weeks. I've just moved house and won't be able to get fixed up to the Internet until at least 11th March. I'm currently writing this is an Oxford pub, and whilst I have no objections to this, I doubt if the bar man would be too happy if I became a resident reviewer at one of his tables .... although, I don't know, I could become a tourist attraction.

Watch this space .....

Anyway, boring you about my Internet, or lack thereof, is not the point of this post. I intend to talk to you about a beautiful novel that I have just finished.

This is 'The Elegance of the Hedgehog' by Muriel Barbery, and has been translated from the French. I don't normally read literature in translation - there's far too much originally written in English that I have to make my way through, that I just don't have the time. This however, is a secret gem. Quietly unassuming, and at the beginning a bit hard going (as if trying to prove a point), it blossoms into a beautiful piece of writing that captures the imagination and the heart.

The plot revolves around two central characters - Renee, the concierge to an expensive block of apartments, who struggles to hide her true, intellectual, self behind an uneducated stereotype, and Paloma - a twelve year old resident, who is a genius, determined to kill herself but not before having some profound thoughts. These two unlikely compatriots are brought together and enrich each others lives, whilst also changing their views of the world around them.

I have been converted to translated literature through this book. I didn't think it was possible to love something so much, and be so heartbroken at the way it turned out as I was. I was so sure I knew what the denouement would entail, and when the total reverse happened, I was truly shocked. It's a wonderful book, and if you haven't read it, you really should go in search. It's elegance is truly mesmerising.


Historian said...

I literally just finished The Elegance of the Hedgehog yesterday, and I cannot stop recommending it to just about everyone I see! I love the juxtaposition of the young girl that THINKS she knows everything, and the woman who is satisfied (she thinks) in life of quiet desperation.

I used to go to the King's Arms or the Buttery to look over my notes (particularly when the History Faculty Library's heat broke last winter!) and the Four Candles when I needed internet. But I would give a lot of things to be able to go and sit in the Rose for an afternoon. It's my absolute favorite, and I miss it so much! I hope the move went smoothly, and that the internet gets hooked up soon!

Mystica said...

I have read about this book in various book blogs and all the reviews have been very good. For some time I couldnt understand very well the title until someone explained it to me (again in a blog). Would love to get my hands on this book.

Bloomsbury Bell said...

I have heard really good things about The Elegance of the Hedgehog - I will have to ask for it for my birthday!
Good luck with the move