Excerpt from The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Elegance of the Hedgehog

By Muriel Barbery

The Elegance of the Hedgehog
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  • Paperback: Sep 2008,
    336 pages.

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Thus, the residents going down the hall would hear the muffled sounds that indicated a television was on, and as they tend to lack rather than abound in imagination, they would form a mental image of the concierge sprawled in front of her television set. As for me, cozily installed in my lair, I heard nothing but I knew that someone was going by. So I would go to the adjacent room and peek through the spy-hole located opposite the stairway and, well hidden behind the white net curtains, I could inquire discreetly as to the identity of the passerby.

With the advent of videocassettes and, subsequently, the DVD divinity, things changed radically, much to the enrichment of my happy hours. As it is not terribly common to come across a concierge waxing ecstatic over Death in Venice or to hear strains of Mahler wafting from her loge, I delved into my hard-earned conjugal savings and bought a second television set that I could operate in my hideaway. Thus, the television in the front room, guardian of my clandestine activities, could bleat away and I was no longer forced to listen to inane nonsense fit for the brain of a clam — I was in the back room, perfectly euphoric, my eyes filling with tears, in the miraculous presence of Art.



Profound Thought No. 1

Follow the stars
In the goldfish bowl
An end


Apparently, now and again adults take the time to sit down and contemplate what a disaster their life is. They complain without understanding, and, like flies constantly banging against the same old windowpane, they buzz around, suffer, waste away, get depressed then wonder how they got caught up in this spiral that is taking them where they don't want to go. The most intelligent among them turn it into a religion: oh, the despicable vacuousness of bourgeois existence! Cynics of this kind frequently dine at Papa's table: "What has become of the dreams of our youth?" they ask, with their smug, disillusioned air. "Those years are long gone, and life's a bitch." I despise this false lucidity that comes with age. The truth is that they are just like everyone else: kids who don't understand what has happened to them and who act big and tough when in fact all they want is to burst into tears.

And yet there's nothing to understand. The problem is that children believe what adults say and, once they're adults themselves, they exact their revenge by deceiving their own children. "Life has meaning and we grown-ups know what it is" is the universal lie that everyone is supposed to believe. Once you become an adult and you realize that's not true, it's too late. The mystery remains intact, but all the available energy has long ago been wasted on stupid things. All that's left is to anesthetize yourself by trying to hide the fact that you can't find any meaning in your life, and then, the better to convince yourself, you deceive your own children.

All our family acquaintances have followed the same path: their youth spent trying to make the most of their intelligence, squeezing their studies like a lemon to make sure they'd secure a spot among the elite, then their entire lives wondering with a flabbergasted look on their faces why all that hopefulness has led to such a vain existence. People aim for the stars and they end up like goldfish in a bowl. I wonder if it wouldn't be simpler just to teach children right from the start that life is absurd. That might deprive you of a few good moments in your childhood but it would save you a considerable amount of time as an adult — not to mention the fact that you'd be spared at least one traumatic experience, i.e. the goldfish bowl.

I am twelve years old, I live at 7, rue de Grenelle in an apartment for rich people. My parents are rich, my family is rich and my sister and I are, therefore, as good as rich. My father is a parliamentarian and before that he was a minister: no doubt he'll end up in the top spot, emptying out the wine cellar of the residence at the Hôtel de Lassay. As for my mother . . . Well, my mother isn't exactly a genius but she is educated. She has a Ph.D. in literature. She writes her dinner invitations without mistakes and spends her time bombarding us with literary references, ("Colombe, stop trying to act like Madame Guermantes," or "Pumpkin, you are a regular Sanseverina,").

Excerpted from The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery, translated from the French by Alison Anderson. Excerpted by permission of Europa Editions. All rights reserved.

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