I was able to finish reading two books in December: Grace: A Memoir by Grace Coddington and The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery. Both are elegant and charming and certainly offer life lessons we could all live by: having quiet dignity and savoring little, everyday pleasures.
I’m amazed by how Grace was able to write a memoir without really writing one: save for revealing her personal history, I feel that has still kept the nosy reader at bay. There were no washing of dirty linens in public; in one chapter, she writes about her cats. This self-consciousness (well, it is an autobiography) stemming from her shyness and misgivings about the public spotlight has prevented her from truly pouring it all. She glosses over her car accident, separations, and personal struggles (although, we do find out about her allergies). Instead, she entertains the reader by contextualizing the role of fashion and its players—designers, models, photographers—from about five decades ago. Alas, her modesty doesn’t offer readers a chance to truly understand her present work as creative director for Vogue: her portfolio, included in the end pages of the book, are breathless but aside from relaying personal anecdotes surrounding the photos, the average reader won’t know how it is to be truly creative. Still, it’s an elegant read.
The Elegance of the Hedgehog is a two-person narrative: one is the voice of an intelligent and enlightened concierge who must keep up the appearance of your stereotypical concierge by dumbing herself down; and the other is that of a supposedly bright girl who cannot stand her almost aristocratic life. (I used “supposedly” because I have problems with the author appointing the girl as extremely smart. She’s polite, well-behaved, liberal, and left-leaning for sure, but her philosophical musings were, to me, pretentious and embarrassing. I’m not sure if it was a translation problem; the novel is originally in French.)
The two of them go through life, making profound observations about everyday objects, such as camellias, summer rain, and tea, and they are both tortured because they cannot let the world know how awesome and fabulous they truly are—until a rich, handsome Japanese dude, who is totally comfortable about how rich and handsome he is (YES, FINALLY!), coax them out of their shells and literally, their respective apartment units.
That’s about the only time that I started enjoying the book—unfortunately, it was down to the last 50 pages at that point—when the protagonists have finally ridden themselves of the stick up their cultured asses. And then of course, something happens, which initially, was sad, but which later, I found ridiculous and funny. (To quote Alanis Morissette, “It’s like rain on your wedding day.” It wasn’t ironic, but a bummer.)
Nevertheless, I loved reading how they enjoyed simple pleasures. There were moments of beauty in how it described the art of making tea, or the exhilaration in flowers and rain, and allowing oneself to fall in love.