Thursday, March 12, 2009

I recently read the charming novel, The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery (translated from the French by Alison Anderson) and was delighted to find a passage about two of my favorite things, books and fruit:
The cherry plum test is held in my kitchen. I place the fruit and the book on the Formica table, and as I pick up to the former to taste it, I also start on the latter. If each resists the powerful onslaught of the other, if the cherry plum fails to make me doubt the text and if the text is unable to spoil the fruit, then I know that I am in the presence of a worthwhile and, why not say it, exceptional undertaking, for there are very few works that have not dissolved--proven both ridiculous and complacent--into the extraordinary succulence of the little golden plums.
This book definitely passes the cherry plum test for me (not that I had any cherry plums as I read--I wish I had! But the book made me cry in the lobby of America's Tire while I was waiting for a repair, and that seems like an equally important test.)

The Elegance of the Hedgehog is a very philosophical novel, one that reminds me that novels can be about ideas if the ideas are deeply grounded in character; I often resist ideas (or, I should say, Ideas with a capital I) when I write fiction because I don't want my stories to become tracts, stark intellectual exercises, but this book helped me remember that stories can be powerful when they enter the realm of the mind as well as the realm of the body and heart. This novel follows two narrators, 59 year old Renee, a concierge and closet intellectual at a fancy apartment building in Paris, and 12 year old whip-smart Paloma, a resident of the building who plans to kill herself when she turns 13. It's lovely to see how both characters help one another take their light out from under their respective bushels. I read that a French psychologist prescribes this book instead of Prozac, and I can see why; it's a lovely meditation on the beauty that can be found in our world.

2 comments:

Kit_Stolz said...

Any book that can make a smart person cry in the waiting room of America's Tire has to be great...maybe better than that.

Romalyn Tilghman said...

Oh Gayle, Thanks for the book recommendation. Since I'm having so much trouble with this second novel, and my tendency to write about ideas, I ran right out to buy it. What a treat!