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L'express (France): "The ultimate celebration of every person’s invisible part (Renée smells of cabbage soup but reads Husserl) constitutes one of the book’s operative factors."

Date: Feb 7 2008

Prescription Hedgehog
L’espress (France)
February 7, 2008

From bookstore windows to the psychoanalyst’s couch! Some therapists are prescribing Muriel Barbery’s bestselling novel to their patients.

Hedgehog or Prozac? At first, the question may seem absurd. But it become less so when one learns that a Parisian psychotherapist is prescribing Muriel Barbery’s bestselling novel The Elegance of the Hedgehog to her patients. “Yes, I am prescribing it, and I do mean prescribing. This book can do a lot of good,” affirms Maude Julien, the fifteenth arrondissement’s leading psychologist. “The novel is a real toolbox that one can look into to resolve one’s problems.” This, in retrospect, might largely explain the book’s success.

Muriel Barbery didn’t expect that her Hedgehog would gain her recognition of this sort. The novel was released to a quiet reception in the torpid publishing summer of 2006. A year and a half and 900 thousand copies later, Renée the concierge, Paloma the prodigy, and Ozu of the sensitive soul fearlessly continue to challenge the various Goncourt winners, the Millennium tie-ins, and Phillip Roth on our bestseller lists. “One of my patients, completely transformed by this book, confessed that he had given it as a gift to thirty-four different people,” says Maude Julien.

One Patient Cured of Her Fear of Flying

“Therapy is not limited to what happens during visits to the analyst,” explains Julien, citing the theories of the American, Milton Erickson. “The work must continue outside my office. For this reason so-called ‘therapeutic work’ is assigned to the patient. Reading The Elegance of the Hedgehog fits this picture perfectly.” In the past, our psychologist has recommended The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran and short stories by Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt. But these were nothing compared to the Hedgehog, a bona fide panacea for many patients. So, why recommend this novel in particular? “Because it dramatizes, with great sensitivity, many situations in which our patients find themselves, above all our female patients,” explains Alain Schmidt, another Hedgehogian therapist.

And, indeed, all women, at least once, even Carla Bruni, have lived through the kind of psychological self-denigration that Renée inflicts on herself in the opening scene of the book. The ultimate celebration of every person’s invisible part (Renée smells of cabbage soup but reads Husserl) constitutes one of the book’s operative factors.

So what do the patients think? Naturally they are not required to hand in a book report to their therapists, but rather to elaborate their impressions freely? “This novel encouraged me not to judge people on the basis of their social standing or their appearances and to look for hidden qualities in each person. In this book, a sophisticated Japanese man ends up uncovering the interior riches of Renée,” confides Angèle. “The characters in the book make decisions and carry them through, without worrying about social conventions,” adds Sabine. On a more practical level, another patient, fascinated by the character Monsieur Ozu, who hails from Japan, managed to overcome his fear of flying and he’ll soon be taking off for Japan…

That same Japan where, deservedly, Muriel Barbery is enjoying a few happy days with her husband, after having recently traveled to New Zealand. Her plump royalties have allowed her to take a long leave of absence. Right now, they are promenading in Kyoto, camera in hand. Though she may have taken a vow of discretion before the media, Muriel Barbery is nonetheless observing, from a distance and in silence, the nascent stirrings of Hedgehog Therapy—not without a certain degree of bemused surprise. While perhaps her husband, Stéphane, to whom she dedicated the book, and with whom she conceived its structure, will be less surprised. His profession? Psychologist.