Monday, June 29, 2009

meteors, part II -- muriel barbery, the elegance of the hedgehog

my dear friend patty is reading this book, the elegance of the hedgehog. i read it earlier this year, and was very moved by it. it had been recommended to me by someone else i love. yasmine read this book in the original french and was so happy when an english translation was available so that she could share this book with others.

i found myself strangely reluctant to recommend it when i was done. i was besotted by it, it is true, even though the philosophical aspects of it sometimes drove me crazy. but i was possessed of an affinity for these people and their story, and i cried very hard when it was over, very much feeling that a part of me had died. only one other book, their eyes were watching god, by zora neale hurston, has made me feel this way. i can't begin to read that book without tears unbidden starting to my eyes, knowing the journey, and its ultimate end.

when patty said she was going to read the elegance of the hedgehog, i was anxious, worried that she wouldn't like it, that it would reveal my insipid inspirations. i began it again, and immediately it made me cry, as hurston's story always does and will, and i think it's because these are the stories of people struggling to realize their tiny potential, and in the midst of this the reader comes to know the beauty in their characters, the essence that makes them real to us.

and so i stopped, filled with trepidation; unwilling to submit to their journey when i feel so tenuous in my own small lights. i began it again today, when patty reminded me she was reading it, and after a day that had been been bleak. i had left off here:

And then, summer rain...

Do you know what a summer rain is?
To start with, pure beauty striking the summer sky, awe-filled respect absconding with your heart, a feeling of insignificance at the very heart of the sublime, so fragile and swollen with the majesty of things, trapped, ravished, amazed by the bounty of the world.

And then, you pace up and down a corridor and suddenly enter a room full of light. Another dimension, a certainty just given birth. The body is no longer a prison, your spirit roams the clouds, you possess the power of water, happy days are in store, in this new birth.

Just as teardrops, when they are large and round and compassionate, can leave a long strand washed clean of discord, the summer rain as it washes away the motionless dust can bring to a person's soul something like endless breathing.

That is the way a summer rain can take hold in you -- like a new heart, beating in time with another's.

and it brought me back to myself, earlier on this bleak day, when i walked down the grey stairs and into the lobby of an office building, and saw the dulled sky, and rain beating down, and decided i would walk.

it had been a clear day. i don't carry an umbrella because i have no use for them. i wasn't wearing much, but it was ridiculous to me to take transit to the next stop on my journey. it was only a walk of fifteen minutes, and summer rain is sometimes short even when it is fulsome. and so i strode, in the rain, passed people hiding under awnings who looked on incredulously while others called from cell phones to be picked up.

very soon it felt like i was alone in the middle of the day in this part of the city as i walked on down the avenue, normally littered with people squeezing produce, and dog walkers, and wastrels in the watering holes with side walk patios. and i rubbed my fingers together feeling the rain, so thoroughly wet was my skin, and my hair, and my clothes begin to cling to me, but still i strode on. once i saw people make hats from cardboard boxes provided helpfully by the pet shop owner, and smiled to myself.

i strode on and the rain was warm on my skin and i felt very much a part of it, and we were doing nothing but being, the rain and me, and we were resolved to belonging together. it seems to me that what we knew was barbery's endless breathing though this passage seems to tell of a summer day in its epitome, and this day was not that. and yet i know i know whereof she speaks. i still feel strange about actively recommending this book but i will say she also writes beautifully about camellias, and trees, and film, and russian literature.


  1. I loved this post, Mo. I literally finished this book an hour or two ago. It left me in tears as well. I am glad I didn't wait for you to recommend it to me, luckily I watch your goodreads updates and make my own Mo Recommendations!

  2. oh my goodness. i'm glad you didn't tell me you were reading it now too or i might have had an anxiety attack. i knew you had picked it up of course... and i think when we talked about it i was nervous then too. :)

    i'm really glad you were moved by the book as well. it really says a lot of lovely things. i really want to see that ozu movie.

    i have a backlog of reviews to do over at goodreads. i keep finishing books and leaving them in currently read so that i'm reminded to review them... and then i don't. somehow i was way more efficient when i had a full-time job. funny how that works. now i've got too much time on my hands and i'm emoting all the live long day. :)

    you will be at work at your new job in less than 12 hours!! i hope you have a great first day. :)

  3. Oh Mo. This was a lovely, lovely post. So very evocative and honest and heartfelt. I am adding The Elegance of the Hedgehog to my "to read" list but I promise not to tell you when I actually read it.


  4. thanks a lot kerry. i know i that i can sometimes seem very free with my emotions, and i am, but the stuff i feel most deeply, like most people, i have a hard time sharing. the summer rain wouldn't be denied in this case, however, and neither would the elegance of the hedgehog. :) i hope you enjoy it when you do read it but please don't tell if you didn't like it. :)