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Notable Quotable # 53

It is a small world. You do not have to live in it particularly long to learn that for yourself. There is a theory that, in the whole world, there are only five hundred real people (the cast as it were. All the rest of the people in the world, the theory suggests, are extras), and what is more, they all know each other. And it’s true, or true as far as it goes. In reality the world is made of thousands upon thousands of groups of about five hundred people, all of whom will spend their lives bumping into each other, trying to avoid each other, and discovering each other in the same unlikely teashop in Vancouver. There is an unaviodabilty to this process. It’s not even coincidence. It’s just the way the world works, with no regard for individuals or for propriety.

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Notable Quotable #10

And then Mr Ibis said, without moving its beak, “You people talk about the living and the dead as if they were two mutually exclusive categories. As if you cannot have a river that is also a road, or a song that is also a color.”

REVIEW: The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery

I finished this novel nearly a month ago, but have been too busy to give it the full review that it deserves – before now. Before I start it should be known that it took me nearly 4 months to read The Elegance of the Hedgehog, a book of a mere 359 pages, and in fact I have started and finished 5 books in that time. The main reason for this is I didn’t really like The Elegance of the Hedgehog in the beginning and found it a bit grueling to read, especially compared to the others I was reading at the same time. The reason I found it grueling is that it is a very intellectual book with many literary references and words that were unfamiliar to me. Now, if you have been reading my blog for a while, or you know me, you will know that while I do enjoy a great work of literature I also enjoy a variety of more low-brow fiction and so am not as widely read as I would like (I try plus I’m still young! plenty of time yet to get to all those classics!), so at the start of this book I was forever stopping to refer to my trusty dictionary, or google something which left me feeling quite the dunce 😦

I don’t really enjoy feeling stupid while reading (who does?) , so I often found myself putting this one aside for days or weeks on end after one session. This was until I started to take it in my bag to classes and prac, a strategy I use on books I’m avoiding because the time on the bus and train forces me to give them a try. This strategy certainly worked on this little number and I found my feelings toward it quickly changed.

The Elegance of the Hedgehog is a french book that was originally published in 2006 under the title L’élégance du hérisson then translated into English in 2008. The book revolves around a central location – 7 Rue de Grenelle, a swanky apartment building in Paris – and only a handful of events happen anywhere else. The narrative is told through two main characters and narrators: Madame Renee Michel, the middle-aged concierge; and Paloma Josse, the 12-year-old daughter of one of the wealthy families that resides in the building. Madame Michel is a 54-year-old widow who has worked at 7 Rue de Grenelle for 27 years, and she is a self-confessed autodidact (yes this was one of the words I had to look up :S) in areas of literature (namely Tolstoy), art, music and film. However, she has kept the secret of her cultured self for all these years and played the part of the simple concierge as she fears loosing her job or being condemned by the uppity residents of the building. On the other hand Paloma Josse is disgusted by the bourgeois lifestyle of her family and others in the building and feels there is nothing to look forward to in adulthood. Therefore she has decided to kill herself and set fire to the building on her 13th birthday to avoid the future of the adults around her. However, Paloma is an incredibly intelligent and  logical young lady, so in the time leading up to her suicide she has decided to keep records of things in the world around her that may be worth living for – titled “Journal of the Movement of the World” and “Profound Thoughts” – and it is through these journal entries that her sections are narrated.

The story starts out kind of bleak, with both main characters feeling pretty melancholy about their lives, but everything changes when a distinguished Japanese gentleman moves into the building. It was at this point that my interest accelerated because the plot really started to develop when previously the chapters were mainly character development. The groundwork that Barbery had laid down in the earlier chapters meant that I was emotionally attached to Renee and Paloma by the time their stories and characters grew and I wanted to know more. The addition of the Japanese gentleman – Kakuro Ozu – also lightened the story a fair bit because he is a very kind and deep person that appreciates the same art and culture as Renee. Ultimately this book explores a lot of themes, but mainly it explores the philosophies of life and how people find comfort in the world and people arround them, and that really appealed to me. However, it wasn’t all serious cultural references and philosophy, in fact there was some real laugh out loud moments, especially the times when Renee is having tea with Manuela, a maid who cleans many of the building’s apartments and always brings delicious pastries.

I became so entrenched in the story and characters of The Elegance of the Hedgehog that by the end (when an event happens that I won’t spoil) I was struggling not to burst into tears on the train, and I failed a tad. This is a real gem of french literature and would make a great book club book for a group that isn’t afraid to read something so peppered with references, because it provides a lot of fuel for discussions. Despite the fact that it took me forever to read, I’m glad I persevered with The Elegance of the Hedgehog and it is sure to be on the list of my favourite reads of 2011. I also have borrowed the film that was based on the book – The Hedgehog – and look forward to watching it soon. Who knows, it may even make an appearance in a future Top 10 on book to screen adaptations 😉

I give The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery:

4 ½ / 5 stars

REVIEW: Mister God This Is Anna By Fynn

Mister God This Is Anna By Fynn

I’ve been putting off posting this review, not because It was a dud but because there is so much I want to say about this jewel of a book. But on Friday I went to Joondalup Library for a school excursion, and the last time I went to Joondalup, I was reading Mister God this is Anna for the first time, so I thought that was push enough to spread the word.

It is hard to describe this book. It would be like trying to describe a religious revelation – it is an individual experience. All I can say is that it is one of the most beautiful, philosophical little books I’ve ever read. It revolves around a little girl called Anna, who at the tender age of five is found by a young man called Fynn, alone in the middle of the night on the streets of East-end, London. Fynn sees that Anna needs a home and has been abused so he takes her back to his humble abode to live with him, his mother and the other waifs and runaways they have taken in. Fynn soon discovers that Anna is no ordinary little girl; she is a firecracker of curiosity and wonder, always asking questions and creating theories about how the world works, especially when It comes to Mister God (as she calls him). The author is stated as Fynn, and the story is told through his eyes, but when I did a little digging I found that the man behind this book is actually Sydney Hopkins and to my amaze/excitement I found that he wrote two sequels: Anna’s Book and Anna and the Black Knight.

There is so many amazing ideas in this book that It could easily be the basis of its own religion. It is, at its heart a religious novel, but you don’t have to be religious for it to move you. I’m Pagan, so I don’t really believe in “Mister God” but while the themes of the book are religious, I didn’t feel that they were necessarily Christian or promoting organised religion, but were more spiritual and thoughtful. There would be food for thought for anyone here, even atheists, because beneath the subject matter is simply a little girl overcome with wonder at the world around her, and weren’t we all like that once?

The other amazing thing about this book is the accompanying pictures by William Papas.

One of Papas' drawings

His free-form sketchy style fits the youthful exuberance of the book so well, and even though there is so many pictures of little Anna, you never see her face because it’s always obscured by a mane of wild hair, adding a lovely mysteriousness to the character.

 
I’m not afraid to say, this book greatly affected me the first time I read It. A friend of the family lent it to me because she thought I would like it, and I mostly read it on the train ride to and from Joondalup, where I was getting counseling for anxiety once a week. I was only about 18 and at a hard time in my life, and Mister God this is Anna was a little ray of sunshine. When I read the final chapters, I cried on the train, and didn’t even care who saw. When I returned it to my family friend I tentatively asked if I could keep it (in fact I was so nervous about doing so, I think I asked my mum to be the middle man) but alas, she treasured it too much to let it go.
 
I was so excited to read it again and re-discover all its beautiful moments, and while I did enjoy the reunion, it was overshadowed by the fact that I knew how it ended, and even though the first page warned of the tragic ending, It’s different when you have the image of it. I didn’t cry this time, but that is probably due to the fact that it wasn’t a shock.
 
Despite this shadow hanging over my second reading, I plan to read Mister God this is Anna again and again, and I implore anyone – if you can find this book, do so because I just may change you life.
 
I give Mister God this is Anna By Fynn:

5 / 5 Stars