An Interview with Muriel Barbery by Viviana Musumeci, April 15 2008
Before becoming a literary sensation in 2007, Barbery had published Une
gourmandise (to be published in 2009 by Europa Editions), a novel that was
awarded the Bacchus-Bsn Prize. But then He arrived in all his reserved and
entertaining elegance, the Hedgehog. In other words, then came that jewel of a
book that swept aside every other bestseller in France, reaching sales of over a
million copies thanks to its readers' word-of-mouth publicity and its having
been awarded an array of prizes. The author of this masterpiece, Muriel Barbery,
is thirty-nine years old, currently resident in Japan.
What sensations does being the publishing sensation of the year provoke?
Surprise, incredulity and joy! When the book was first published in France, in
September 2006, I thought that nobody would read it and I was readying myself
for some other pursuit, in addition to teaching. The fact that the book
corresponded to the tastes of readers, and that it has crossed the borders into
other countries, surprises me. I still cannot completely explain to myself what
happened. I am, also, incredibly happy about this unexpected fate. This success
has allowed me to realize some of my dreams, to live in Japan and to be able to
Why did you decide to set your book at a street address in Paris, Rue de
Grenelle to be precise, where in real life there is a Prada store?
I did so because that street is located in one of the chicest neighborhoods of
Pairs. Only after the book was out, did I head down there for the first time and
I discover the boutique. The building described in my book, however, is pure
invention, and even the street bears no connotation and is not terribly
Is Renée an echo in some way of Simenon's characters?
As far as I know this is the first time that anyone has made this comparison. I
am honored. But I don't believe I was thinking of Simenon, of whom, I'm
embarrassed to admit, I read little during the writing of my novel.
Is it true that there will be a film adaptation of your book? Did you
participate in the screenplay, and what are your impressions of it?
Yes, there's going to be a film. They begin filming next fall. I limited myself
to a few comments on the screenplay, nothing more. Book and film represent
two very different adventures and I'm letting the young director, Mona Achache,
work in peace.
Did you include philosophical references in the book to draw the reader in?
I have to make a confession: I never think of the reader as I write. Writing is
an intimate, almost secret, activity. I only follow with my pen my own
sensations and desires. This is why the experience of publication is so strange
and complicated. I am very happy to be read, but at the same time, the knowledge
that I'm being read sometimes even annoys me.
Are Renée's passions your own?
Largely, yes, though fictional characters also allow their creators to distance
themselves. My characters are both far and near. That said, Ozu's passion for
cinema, the love for Flemish still lives, the search for beauty, a peevishness
for any form of academic thought, and a love for Russian authors are all my own
An Interview with Muriel Barbery
by Laura Lamanda from La Repubblica (Italy) August 25, 2007
A posh building in rue de Grenelle (Paris), its days recounted
from two points of view, one belonging to a cultured concierge, the other to a
little rich girl with suicidal tendencies. Add some caustic humor, philosophical
discourses, and an oversize adoration of Japanese culture and you have the
ingredients of a novel that plays merrily with stereotypes, quotes Proust,
Eminem, and Husserl, and has surprised everyone by remaining at the top of the
French bestseller lists for months.
You have portrayed two rather unusual
characters. Young Paloma is disarming; she remains implacable before the
hypocrisies of her "caviar left" family; but Renée, secretly refined concierge,
is perhaps the more singular if two.
I was inspired by the idea of a reserved, cultured concierge who turned
stereotypes on their head and at the same time created a compelling comic
effect. With her keen perspective on things, this character then opened the door
on a kind of social criticism. I wasn't interested in writing a fairytale about
a kind concierge and an adorable child. I wanted to confront themes that were
tragic, or absurd, real, while maintaining a light touch. I wanted to explore
the natures of two people who were both lonely and distant and who end up
finding one another.
What really unites them?
Both ask themselves where beauty lies. The young girl is convinced that it lies
hidden in fragile, fleeting things. She searches for it in movement, which is
elusive by definition. And she finds it. Perhaps even during a rugby match, in
the hypnotic movements of a Maori rugby player.
Your concierge, on the other hand, is an
expert on Tolstoy, but also on philosophy. And even the teenaged Paloma, in her
own way, expresses a propensity for abstract speculation.
I followed a long, boring course of studies in philosophy. I expected it to help
me understand better that which surrounds me: but it didn't work out that way.
Literature has taught me more. I was interested in exploring the bearing
philosophy could really have on one's life, and how. I wanted to illuminate this
process. That's where the desire to anchor philosophy to a story, a work of
fiction, was born: to give it more meaning, make it more physically real, and
render it, perhaps, even entertaining.
In this novel, erudite citations are side by
side with references to comic books or the movies, and not just art house movies
but commercial blockbusters.
Like my characters, I ask myself: what do I like, what moves me? A good novel,
of course, but also the brilliant manga of Taniguchi. Or a film made well and
made purely for entertainment. Why deny oneself these things? I am not afraid of
Both interviews are reproduced by permission of the publisher, Europa Editions.