Thursday, March 4, 2010

Muriel Barbery

If you have not read either of Muriel Barbery's novels, Gourmet Rhapsody or The Elegance of the Hedgehog, you are truly missing out on some wonderful writing. Barbery is a French novelist and philosophy professor. Gourmet Rhapsody was her first novel, followed by Hedgehog, which was a bestseller in France for many weeks before it was translated to English.

Although they are both short novels, they are not quick or easy reads. Plot-wise, there is not much going on, but the compelling characters, philosophy, and the exceptional writing and use of language will make you slow down and savor each word. I would recommend starting with Hedgehog, which is set in a bourgeois apartment building in Paris. The concierge, Renee, is a very intelligent and cultured woman, but maintains an image of ignorance to the wealthy residents of the building. Paloma, a very bright 12-year old girl who lives in the building, develops an unlikely friendship with Renee. Gourmet Rhapsody is the story of another resident of the same apartment building, Pierre Arthens. Arthens is a well-respected food critic, who is on his death bed. He is tormented by a taste he cannot remember. As he searches his memories, we experience some of his most memorable encounters with food. Arthens is not a likable character, which is usually a huge turnoff for me. But for some reason, and maybe it was just because the writing was so good, it didn't bother me. And it is definitely a rhapsody on food, so be prepared to start drooling.

Barbery currently lives in Japan with her husband, Stephane, who is apparently a photographer. You can see some of his beautiful photographs on her blog. A very talented couple.

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