At the last Brown Baggers meeting, group members had a lively discussion of The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery. Originally published in French, this novel was a bestseller in many European countries as well as America and South Korea. Many group members agreed that this was a “very French” novel, indicated by the style and general feeling — a touch of je ne sais quoi? In any case, its clear cultural character did not limit its appeal to readers in other parts of the world.
Both of the central characters present interesting philosophical musings. Although their attitudes may be influenced by their surroundings, the idea of pondering these concepts is familiar to many different societies. Some group members noted the similarity to the Norwegian novel, Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder, which is an original plot blended with an introduction to different philosophies and schools of thought. While many of the Brown Baggers ultimately enjoyed the novel as a whole, occasionally the intellectual detours of Paloma and Renee felt more like a lecture or textbook excerpt.
While considering the book’s popularity and background, our group also discussed the class system in the U.S. as compared to France. Initial reviewers doubted the success of this novel in the U.S., but our group members felt they could still understand the critique of the French class system. We debated whether or not the U.S. is truly a classless society and compared Renee’s reluctance to elevate herself to higher class pretensions to the success-focused attitude the comes with pursuing the American Dream.
In addition to the discourse, group members enjoyed an elegant feast worthy of a tea with Renee and Manuela, or dinner in Kakuro Ozu’s apartment. Look at these adorable hedgehog rolls made by a group member and one of our moderators!
A few days after the Brown Baggers meeting, many of our group enjoyed a screening of Le Hérisson at JMRL as part of the UVA French Film Festival. It was wonderful to be able to watch this film adaptation of the novel and discuss it with other members of community — and it was quite a full house! JMRL has added this film to the catalog, so anyone who wasn’t able to attend should make sure to check it out!