When I first read The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery about a concierge in a Paris apartment building who keeps largely hidden her high degree of culture from the wealthy and elegant residents of the building. She feels the apartment owners will not readily relate to someone they seek as socially inferior if they discover she is extremely and deeply into the reading life. I loved this book and in truth I very much related to it. I saw in her work life as reflective of many of us deeply into the reading life. I wanted to see how others reacted to this book so I googled it and I discovered the world of book blogs. Soon I was following lots of book blogs. It was a great thing for me as I have always been alone in my personal life in my love of reading. In a few months I decided it would be fun to have my own book blog and I started The Reading Life. The day I joined the international book blog community changed my life forever and I always felt grateful to Muriel Barbery for this.
The Life of Elves is a very challenging book, one which offers great rewards to readers with the willingness and desire to follow the very deep mysteries with which it deals. I read a few reviews after completing the book. I was surprised to see it described in The Telegraph as a "children's book", another print reviewer said she abandoned the book on page 69 because she could not follow the plot and complained of an inadequate narration. Another reviewer complained of many obscure perhaps overly lush, overblown sentences that they found difficult to understand. (To me this shows a negative aspect of print reviews in which reviewers are required to write about works with which they feel no affinity and more or less acknowledge is beyond their reading level.)
Still other reviewers recognized it was a major work of art dealing with universal political issues, the nature of story telling, the role of beauty in bringing value to life. Above all it is about the clash of realms, about the need to keep Magic alive if humanity is to survive.
The Life of Elves treats of two different but connected worlds , that of elves and that of humans in Brugandy and Italy. A great evil is treatining both realms. Disharmony in the human world has given a sinister mysterious leader the ability to change in a destructive meteorological cycles. The disharmony is reflective in the falling away from a love for stories and music, the music of the spheres. The elf council has located two young girls who may be able to repel these forces.
The two girls are Maria and Clara. One lives in Brugandy, the other in Italy. Maria's parents are elves but her apperance is totally human. Her magical powers are still in the nascent stages but with direction her powers can go rapidly. Clara is half elf, half human. Her power comes through music and have the power to defeat the growing darkness. Her music can help restore harmony.
The plot is not simple, there is an extensive cast of characters. The prose is exquisite, replete with erudite references, beautiful metaphors, and wonderful descriptions of the beauty of the natural world. I had to way slow down to read this book but it was worth it. It is about the nature of stories, how stories helped make us human.
I first became familiar with the work of Gallic Books when I received a review copy of a wonderful biography they recently published, Helena Rubenstein The Woman Who Invented Beauty by Michelle Fitoussi. I urge anyone into quality French literature in translation visit their very well done webpage.
Here is their mission statement
Gallic Books was founded by francophiles and former Random House colleagues Jane Aitken and Pilar Webb, with the aim of making the best French writing available to English-speaking readers. Having published its first titles in 2007, Gallic now has a catalogue of more than 50 works of fiction and non-fiction, including historical crime series, contemporary noir, commercial and literary fiction, recently adding classics to the list.