Muriel Barbery

One of these days, all this brain scan work they’re doing will stumble on a way to read your thoughts. The words will pop up on the scanning equipment. How the brain scan gear will be able to move these “thoughts” into actual words, and read what language the person “thinks” in, well, I don’t know. I hope somebody is working on it. I would like to read an actual novel-okay, maybe a chapter-comprised of the actual real-time thoughts of a real person. I’d like to read the sentence fragments, track the number and repetitions of thoughts in a day, inventory the junk, marvel at the wasted time, see what really matters or appears to matter.

Has anybody really tried to do it, writing down thoughts as soon as they come into your head? If you tried, of course, you’d be writing and not doing other regular things like sorting socks or cleaning the bathroom and thinking those other, random thoughts so it wouldn’t count.

You can’t do it in real time.

In the meantime, we have what we writers call “interior monologue” and it must, of course, fit with all the conventions of “good writing.”

Full sentences and good punctuation, that sort of thing.

And that brings me to “The Elegance of the Hedgehog.”

Two women-well, one girl and one woman. It’s packed with interior monologue and it’s compelling from start to finish.

“Hedgehog” takes place on a relatively small stage-an apartment building in Paris (for the most part) and only certain rooms at that. For sheer execution of a concept-and I would have loved to seen the ideas in Muriel Barbery’s head as this idea grew-this is brilliant. I wonder how close the final version is to what she first imagined….

Anyway, I kept thinking of other books that drew me into such tightly-defined settings and introduced me to such distinct individuals. “Shipping News” (Annie Proulx) came to mind and “Possession” (A.S. Byatt), though “Elegance of the Hedgehog” bears little resemblance to either. Readers have to bring something to the table with “Hedgehog.” While heavy with observations about art, beauty and philosophy, “Hedgehog” is also breezy with self-deprecation and witty insights about the modern world. References to “Blade Runner” and Eminem fit right alongside tongue-lashings about inappropriate grammar and deep thoughts about William of Ockham.

“Hedgehog” starts a bit slow but picks up steam as “Monsieur Ozu” arrives. The arc of the “plot” and the relative sense of “action” is not the point.

“Hedgehog” is about seeing beauty, prejudice, the meaning of art, the meaning of life, destiny, aesthetics, tea, flowers, cats, routines, haikus, imagination, television, stratified city life, inner thoughts.

I also think it’s about building the vocabulary and the sensibility of an individual’s interior monologue and how that interior voice becomes the guiding force of our lives. It’s about nurturing that point of view and making sure it’s there when you need it most.

“Hedgehog” is a gem.


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