Interview with the author of the international bestselling novel Elegance of the Hedgehog
A posh building in rue de Grenelle (Paris), its days recounted from two points of view, one belonging to a cultured concierge, the other to a little rich girl with suicidal tendencies. Add some caustic humor, philosophical discourses, and an oversize adoration of Japanese culture and you have the ingredients of a novel that plays merrily with stereotypes, quotes Proust, Eminem, and Husserl, and has surprised everyone by remaining at the top of the French bestseller lists for months.
You have portrayed two rather unusual characters. Young Paloma is disarming; she remains implacable before the hypocrisies of her “caviar left” family; but Renée, secretly refined concierge, is perhaps the more singular if two.
“I was inspired by the idea of a reserved, cultured concierge who turned stereotypes on their head and at the same time created a compelling comic effect. With her keen perspective on things, this character then opened the door on a kind of social criticism. I wasn’t interested in writing a fairytale about a kind concierge and an adorable child. I wanted to confront themes that were tragic, or absurd, real, while maintaining a light touch. I wanted to explore the natures of two people who were both lonely and distant and who end up finding one another.”
What really unites them?
“Both ask themselves where beauty lies. The young girl is convinced that it lies hidden in fragile, fleeting things. She searches for it in movement, which is elusive by definition. And she finds it. Perhaps even during a rugby match, in the hypnotic movements of a Maori rugby player."
Your concierge, on the other hand, is an expert on Tolstoy, but also on philosophy. And even the teenaged Paloma, in her own way, expresses a propensity for abstract speculation.
“I followed a long, boring course of studies in philosophy. I expected it to help me understand better that which surrounds me: but it didn’t work out that way. Literature has taught me more. I was interested in exploring the bearing philosophy could really have on one’s life, and how. I wanted to illuminate this process. That’s where the desire to anchor philosophy to a story, a work of fiction, was born: to give it more meaning, make it more physically real, and render it, perhaps, even entertaining.”
In this novel, erudite citations are side by side with references to comic books or the movies, and not just art house movies but commercial blockbusters.
“Like my characters, I ask myself: what do I like, what moves me? A good novel, of course, but also the brilliant manga of Taniguchi. Or a film made well and made purely for entertainment. Why deny oneself these things? I am not afraid of eclecticism.”
Interview by Laura Lamanda
from La Repubblica (Italy)
August 25, 2007