A Book that made me cry

For years, I wanted to read this book, and I finally got round to doing it. And it left me crying like a child. The Elegance of the Hedgehog, by Muriel Barbery is the most beautiful, astonishing, profound book I’ve read in a long time. Disturbing, in the best way possible.

I watched the movie afterwards as well. Let me tell you, if you watched the movie but haven’t read the book: You know nothing about this story.

The movie is well done, don’t get me wrong. The filmmakers and actors worked with the material they had and translated it in the best way possible. But even if you made five different movies out of the book and puzzled them all together, you would never grasp the intensity of the written story. This is not the fault of the director, it is because movies just work differently. In order to make the screenplay work, the beautiful monologues that make the essence of the book, no – that are the book, had to be translated into dialogues between the main characters. And in that process one of the main feelings that is transported by the book gets lost, has to get lost. When I read the book, I felt the loneliness of these two female characters, the rich girl and the poor concierge, and all the time whilst reading I was longing for them to meet. Because I was anticipating the relief they both would feel, to finally meet somebody who would understand, truly understand. It takes two thirds of the book for this to happen. It takes about ten, fifteen minutes in the movie, because they had to make them talk to each other.

The book is very much about language, and how the proper, fitting choice of certain words expresses where you belong in society. And furthermore, it is about how the rich and therefore very important people are blind to the possibility that somebody simple like a concierge could be cleverer than all of them together. Because Madame Michelle, the concierge, knows that she doesn’t belong to the upper class despite her being very well educated and very intelligent, she deliberatley talks like an idiot to keep the world together as it should be – until one day her subconscious mind lets escape a half sentence that uncovers her secret identity of a bookworm to a special person. It is a brilliant book, witty and sharp and sad. And it is, in a very true sense, better than a movie that wasn’t bad at all.

Have you read The Elegance of the Hedgehog? Or seen the movie? What did you think about it?