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Bookstore People: "I found The Elegance of the Hedgehog the best book I’ve read in years."

Date: May 30 2009

Regular readers of this blog, or anyone who has stood next to me in a bookstore, know that I found The Elegance of the Hedgehog the best book I’ve read in years.  I’m not saying how  many years because I found the  number growing like a the size of a trout a proud fisherman caught.  Muriel Barbery was in Los Angeles for the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books.  She appeared at a panel and answered a couple of questions (I wasn’t there) and then she was at a NEA fundraiser sponsored by Literary Affairs for an interview that I did attend.  She is lovely, elegant and a joy to spend time with.  Here are some of the highlights of the interview:
  • Muriel doesn’t write in a coherent fashion.  No outline, she doesn’t know how the story is going to progress before she is actually writing it.  She didn’t know the end of this book until five minutes before she wrote it. 
  • Renee was a standard concierge character with a small part  in Muriel’s first book, Gourmet Rhapsody (which will be published by Europa and available in September, 2010).  Muriel decided to create an erudite and base a new book around Renee.
  • Initially, the book was only from Renee’s voice, but 200 pages into it, Muriel’s husband read a  scene with Paloma and said she looked interesting and the two voice narrative was born.
  • Muriel is passionate about art (one of the reasons I love her work) so she writes about art in her novels, but she wouldn’t write art essays.
  • Muriel purposefully used archaic French words and asked that the translators keep this aspect because she believes “a new word is a new world.”    Muriel said she is grateful when writers make her discover a new word.  The translator was faithful to Muriel’s request and readers are grateful to Muriel; I kept a dictionary next to me when reading the book and discovered the meaning of all sorts of new words.
  • Muriel took the money she made from the book and moved to Japan with her husband (he’s photographer, see some of his photos on her blog, in French, but you’ll understand the pictures).  Prior to that, Muriel only dreamed of Japan.  She worried that once she visited, she would discover that she wrote Ozu wrong, but the first man they met was Ozu personified.  The book was very well received in Japan.
  • Why was the painting in Ozu’s apartment a copy?  Because the point is to live with beauty over authenticity.  Having the original would have been too expensive to purchase, too fragile to care for, too much hassle to secure and ultimately unnecessary.
  • Muriel loves reading science fiction (okay, that surprised me) and when she was writing Paloma, she was thinking of the kids in Orson Scott’s Ender’s Game.

It was a lovely evening with a charming author, the perfect chaser to a fabulous book.

from Bookstore People

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