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The Life of Elves: Book summary and reviews of The Life of Elves by Muriel Barbery

The Life of Elves

by Muriel Barbery

The Life of Elves by Muriel Barbery X
The Life of Elves by Muriel Barbery
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About this book

Book Summary

A moving and deeply felt homage to the power of nature and art by one of the world's most beloved authors.

Maria lives in a remote village in Burgundy, where she learns that she has a gift for communicating with nature. Hundreds of miles away in Italy, Clara discovers that she possesses a stunning musical genius and is sent from the countryside to Rome to develop her preternatural abilities. Barbery's The Life of the Elves tells the story of two children whose extraordinary talents will bring them into contact with magical worlds and malevolent forces. If, against all odds, they can be brought together, their meeting may shape the course of history. 

Seven years after the publication of her international bestseller, The Elegance of the Hedgehog, Muriel Barbery returns with a lyrical novel about the quest for enchantment in a world that seems to have forgotten such a thing ever existed. With its cast of unforgettable characters, each fighting to preserve a sense of enchantment, The Life of the Elves is a poetic meditation on art, nature, dreams, and the role of the imagination. 

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"Just as battle is coming, readers are stopped by descriptions of the numerous participants, breaking the tension and typifying a reading experience in which the parts are greater than the whole." - Publishers Weekly

"The magical frame and lush loveliness of the writing might be oversweet for some readers, but many fans of both Barbery and fantasy from writers like Alice Hoffman and Sarah Addison Allen will be enchanted." - Library Journal

"Although possibly too abstract for children and too fey for some adults, this fervent, idiosyncratic fable is undeniable evidence of a richly lyrical imagination." - Kirkus

This information about The Life of Elves was first featured in "The BookBrowse Review" - BookBrowse's membership magazine, and in our weekly "Publishing This Week" newsletter. Publication information is for the USA, and (unless stated otherwise) represents the first print edition. The reviews are necessarily limited to those that were available to us ahead of publication. If you are the publisher or author and feel that they do not properly reflect the range of media opinion now available, send us a message with the mainstream reviews that you would like to see added.

Any "Author Information" displayed below reflects the author's biography at the time this particular book was published.

Reader Reviews

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Cloggie Downunder

Something quite different from Muriel Barbery.
“…she looked up at him with her eyes as blue as the torrents from the glacier, with a gaze in which the angels of mystery sang. And life flowed down the slopes of the Sasso with the slowness and intensity of those places where everything requires effort but also takes its time, in the current of a bygone dream where humankind knew languor interwoven with the bitterness of the world”

The Life of Elves is the third novel by prize-winning French novelist and professor of philosophy, Muriel Barbery. Two orphan girls grow up, unaware, initially, of each other, and of the integral role they will play in the battle of good versus evil.

Clara is raised in a secluded Italian mountain village by a priest and his ageing housekeeper until her prodigious musical talent sees her taken to study with the Maestro in Rome.

Maria grows up in a remote French farming village, surrounded by loving parents, elderly aunts and cousins. Not until a major battle looms do they begin to realise how important they are to the future of humankind.

Readers familiar with The Gourmet (aka Gourmet Rhapsody) and The Elegance of the Hedgehog should be aware that this book is a major departure in style from Barbery’s earlier works.

This book, too, has some beautiful descriptive prose, but, whereas her earlier novels abound with quirky characters, witty dialogue and gems of wisdom, this one is more plot-driven and involves the realm of fantasy (perhaps obvious from the title).

Prose like “…while the people of this land might be sculpted into jagged rock by wind and snow, they are also fashioned by the poetry of their landscape, which makes shepherds compose rhymes in the icy fog of the high pastures, and storms give birth to hamlets that dangle from the web of the sky” is de riguer for this story.

Major themes of this book include the importance of the connection between humankind and the Earth, nature, and the arts. Flawlessly translated into English by Alison Anderson, the book also provides a very useful index of characters at the beginning. Readers who enjoy this novel will be pleased to know that Barbery is working on a sequel. Something quite different from Muriel Barbery.

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Author Information

Muriel Barbery Author Biography

Photo: Hélie Gallimard

Muriel Barbery's novels include the New York Times bestseller, The Elegance of the Hedgehog (Europa, 2008), and Gourmet Rhapsody (Europa, 2009). She is also the author of The Writer's Cats, illustrated by Maria Guitart, a short tale about esthetics, inspiration, the writing life, and cats. Barbery has lived in Kyōto, Amsterdam, and Paris, and now lives in the French countryside.

Author Interview

Name Pronunciation
Muriel Barbery: Muri-EL

Other books by Muriel Barbery at BookBrowse
  • The Elegance of the Hedgehog jacket
  • One Hour of Fervor jacket
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