Sunday, 28 December 2008


A dear friend gave me The Elegance of the Hedgehog for Christmas. I'd seen it before, and thought ‘nice title’, but not picked it up.

I liked it. It's extremely French, in a very distinctive and funny way, and one day I'd like to read it in the original and see how I got on. As far as I can tell, it's meant to be entertaining and satirical, and it is. If I'd never personally noticed that a sixteenth-century Dutch painting of lemons was absolutely nothing like a photograph, nor met someone who told me he was writing a Ph.D thesis on the semiotics of the World Bank, I suppose I might have laughed less. There were one or two words I should have looked up, towards the end, but I didn't because I was enjoying the story. And I agree with the author about how it had to end; I think it's rather the point. I agree with the reviewers that the whole Japanese thing is a bit contrived, but it does the job in context, probably better than anything else available.

I can't imagine that it will sell as well in English as it has in French.

An oddity - the translation is into American English, which is fine - but weights, measures, and even dress sizing have been changed as well. I thought this was a mistake, even supposing that this US edition was only meant to be sold in the USA. The book as a whole made enough demands on the reader's literacy that I don't really see the need to insult the intelligence of an American audience by converting a French television rugby commentator's instantly-recognisable description of Jonah Lomu from centimetres and kilos into feet, inches, and pounds. Why bother? Is the American reader seriously expected to imagine a French commentator saying this? And that the young protagonist recorded feet, inches, and pounds in her journal without further comment? And why should other readers be annoyed and distracted by the utter nonsense of having to deduce what system Renée's dress size is given in? Bizarre.

It is certainly about elegance, which is about self-invention. And stereotypes, and their usefulness for self-invention. I enjoyed that.

Thank you for the present. (x) (x) (x)


Mtnhighmama said...

You give Americans too much credit. Many Americans don't even realize there IS a different set of measurements out there, let alone have any idea how to convert them.

maya said...

I have just finished reading it, and enjoyed it. A very interesting look into human relations and loneliness, at times tender, other ironic and discreet.

msHedgehog said...

@mtnhighmama - I can't help feeling that if only people stopped insulting their intelligence, they'd soon learn.

@maya - I agree - I don't think it's especially ambitious, but it was amusing and interesting and emotional. I felt the author was indulging the fantasy many intellectuals have of an undemanding job with time to think, and skewering some people who annoy her on the side. But she certainly realised this - and that it all falls down when you want to wear nice clothes.