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09 November 2009

The Elegance of the Hedgehog


Just finished this book by French Professor of Philosophy Marian Barbery, which is a philosophy book disguised as a novel. That's okay, as we have had all sorts of books disguised as novel, not as well written, not as interesting and not as thoughtful.
This one, though, touches a nerve in many parts of the body -- brain, heart, stomach, spleen, inner eye,...
What philosophy is she espousing? Not Ayn Rand -- that's for sure, but rather, a sense of civil society that holds both the right and the left in contempt, those who want to keep the status quo as well as the self-indulged socialists. This society is underground.
The climax seemed to have been rushed, but perhaps that is intentional. Some readers can get lost in all the rich details of Parisians and Parisian living. Others can view this as a descriptive novel -- not much action, and put the book aside.
Not much action until the last third of the book, and even then, not until the last few short chapters, which translates into just a few condensed days of events. The reader who is also a character in any first person narrative which this, alternatively Paloma in her "Journal of the Movement of the World" and "Profound Thoughts" and through concierge Madame Michel's silent storytelling, as well as the characters themselves within the story must have felt the events speeding up on them. There is a sense of urgency, a change in direction that we sense but know we are helpless to master. We all simply must decide how personally momentous such a turn of events is and respond in the best way we know how. The reader, however, has the luxury of merely being philosophical about it.


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