Tuesday, 1 June 2010


What's not to like about Gallic Books? They publish French novels in their first English translation, which are not only brilliantly selected but also look very attractive. I must confess a personal interest here, in that I used to work for the sales team that helped Gallic to launch into the book trade, and nicer people you could not hope to meet.

Gallic started with period crime novels (although written by contemporary French writers) but have branched out, and at the moment I am, as it were, sitting very happily on one of these branches, to wit 'The Elegance of the Hedgehog'. This delightful novel is narrated alternately by the secretly cultured concierge of an apartment block in Paris and the precocious daughter of a resident family. The latter keeps a journal to record her (numbered) profound thoughts, which have led her to the conclusion that the only way to make sense of her life is for her to commit suicide on her thirteenth birthday. Imagine a Left Bank version of Adrian Mole, and you won't go far wrong. Meanwhile, the concierge pursues her clandestine passions for philosophy, literature and art, weaving a screen of ordinariness and anonymity around her to deflect the suspicions of her employers, and her musings on both activities are beautifully rendered, with the smallest whiff of irony and parody.

This goes on until a death in the apartment brings change, in the form of an enigmatic Japanese man.

Here's a taster, from Renee the concierge:

This morning, while listening to France Inter on the radio, I was surprised to
discover that I am not who I thought I was. Up until then I had ascribed the
reasons for my cultural ecleticism to my condition as a proletarian autodidact.

and Paloma the junior philosopher:

I wonder if it wouldn't be simpler just to teach children right from the start
that life is absurd. That might deprive you of a few good moments in your
childhood but it would save you a considerable amount of time as an adult.

The book is suffused with humour, wit and humanity, and is one I can see myself rereading, preferably in Paris.


1 comment:

Hannah Stoneham said...

Sounds very interesting and this is certainly not the first favourable review that i have come across. i live just outsdie Paris so am particuarly interested! Thanks for sharing