The Elegance of the Hedgehog – Muriel Barbery

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I live alone with my cat, a big lazy tom who has no distinguishing features other than the fact that his paws smell bad when he is annoyed.
 
People aim for the stars, and they end up like goldfish in a bowl.
 
Well, my mother isn’t exactly a genius but she is educated. She has a literature PhD. She writes her dinner invitations without mistakes and spends her time bombarding us with literary references (‘Colombe, stop trying to act like Madame Guermantes,’ or ‘Sweetie, you are a regular Sansaverina’).
 
I think lucidity gives your success a bitter taste, whereas mediocrity still leaves hope for something.
 
… Manuela has been polishing the toilets with a cotton bud, and though they may be gilded with gold leaf, they are just as filthy and reeking as any toilets on the planet, because if there is one thing the rich do share with the poor, however unwillingly, it is their nauseating intestines that always manage to find a place to free themselves of that which makes them stink.
 
When Manuela arrives, my lodge is transformed into a palace, and a picnic between two pariahs becomes the feast of two monarchs. Like a storyteller transforms life into a shimmering river where trouble and boredom vanish far below the water, Manuela metamorphoses our existence into a warm and joyful epic.
 
My mother is no longer a child but she apparently has not managed to conceive that Constitution and Parliament (cats) possess no more understanding than the vacuum cleaner.
 
They are utterly spineless and anaesthetised, emptied of all emotion.
 
“I thought: pity the poor in spirit who know neither the enchantment nor the beauty of language.”

“If you have but one friend, make sure you choose her well.”

“People aim for the stars, and they end up like goldfish in a bowl. I wonder if it wouldn’t be simpler just to teach children right from the start that life is absurd.”

“When tea becomes ritual, it takes its place at the heart of our ability to see greatness in small things. Where is beauty to be found? In great things that, like everything else, are doomed to die, or in small things that aspire to nothing, yet know how to set a jewel of infinity in a single moment?”

“Personally I think that grammar is a way to attain beauty.”

“I find this a fascinating phenomenon: the ability we have to manipulate ourselves so that the foundation of our beliefs is never shaken.”


“I have finally concluded, maybe that’s what life is about: there’s a lot of despair, but also the odd moment of beauty, where time is no longer the same. It’s as if those strains of music created a sort of interlude in time, something suspended, an elsewhere that had come to us, an always within never. Yes, that’s it, an always within never.”
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