No elegance in this hedgehog: The Life of Elves

I loved The Elegance of the Hedgehog.  Anyone I’ve ever talked to about The Elegance of the Hedgehog loved it too. And yet, Muriel Barbery’s third novel The Life of Elves is a literary calamity.

I am two-thirds through this book but I realised this weekend that the avoidance techniques I’ve employed to not finish this book (‘hmm… I’ll just read this real estate magazine again’) have won out. The Life of Elves will go back to the bookshelf unfinished (Book I Forsook #2).

I can’t even critique the narrative properly because at no point in the 157 pages that I read did I actually understand what was going on.  There were small moments of clarity that went somethi427.jpgng like ‘ah, yes we are in Italy again now’.  But then there would be a chapter featuring a hare and a wild boar and I would be perplexed once again. On the upside, at least there aren’t any plot spoilers in this review.

In addition to the French/ Italian muddle of a plot, this is one of the most overwritten books I have read in a long time.  The prose is florid and incredibly ornate.  Every paragraph has too-long sentences, too many adjectives and unnecessary metaphors that at times actually made me wince.

The memory of Eugenie took on another dimension, as if it had been multiplied to infinity, inscribed in unknown spaces and times which his spirit now probed through the prism of the old granny and a land as harsh and limpid as the skies of the beginning of time…He had never viewed the world from such an angle as on this day of Eugenie’s funeral, an angle that was vaster and more open, imbued with the ruggedness of a terrain both barren and full of grace.

I did try to give Barbery the benefit of the doubt and lay the blame at the feet of the translator, but I just don’t think you could massacre a book to this extent in a translation exercise.

I’m really sorry Muriel, I tried.



This is a site about books and about tea, and how we should read more books and drink more tea. Sometimes, it's hard to know what books to read and what tea to drink. This is where I can help out.


  1. Oh, sad day. I was so looking forward to this.

  2. Wow, that’s quite a quote! What on earth is the prism of an old granny? How do you probe things through it?

    I have The Elegance of the Hedgehog on my TBR pile. I’m looking forward to it.

  3. There’s paragra[hs like that every page! So tiresome. Let me know what you think of Elegance. I’m seriously questioning my judgement on that now.

  4. Such a shame. I loved Hedgehog and her other book, The Gourmet. I read a sample chapter of Elves, wavered on giving her the benefit of the doubt, but then didn’t buy the book because I just wasn’t sure if I wanted to read about elves… Glad I didn’t buy it on the strength of your review (the only blog review I’ve read to date).

  5. I loved Elegance of the Hedgehog! Thanks for helping me not to bother with this. Must try The Gourmet though.

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