Faye Rapoport DesPres

Heartbroken by Beauty

It is 5:43 a.m. on a Wednesday morning, and I have just finished “The Elegance of the Hedgehog” by Muriel Barbery. I find myself heartbroken by this book, but in a beautiful way that is difficult to describe. As I was reading the book slowly over the past couple of weeks, I thought about the things I might say about it when I was done. I considered how I might describe the language, or the very “Frenchness” of the writing, or the characters, or the concepts that were discussed at various points. But all of that is out the window now. Having read the last paragraphs a few moments ago, after waking up at 4 a.m. for no reason I could put my finger on, I am just so deeply touched. I won’t give anything away, but I will say that this book has affected me in ways that few books do. Yet it came upon me slowly, through various stages of reading and comprehension and involvement in the story. After more than 300 pages that seemed destined to reach me for the most part intellectually, the book managed to break through all of that and hit straight at my heart.

I often say that “War and Peace” described the human condition, for me, in a way that no other book had when I read it. “The Elegance of the Hedgehog” has described for me the meaning of art, and has offered one way, at least, of grasping the meaning of life. Barbery has managed to get into words something my mind has often flirted with but has never articulated. Not in this way.