I am nearing the halfway mark of The Elegance of the Hedgehog. This book has been an interesting read so far and the plot is about to get more fun with the entrance of a new character.
The novel is narrated by two persons in alternating chapters. The first is Renee, a 50 year old, short, plump and ugly widowed concierge of a very posh Parisian apartment occupied by the very rich. Renee is an autodidact who tries very hard to disguise her intelligence and knowledge because French society deems it necessary for a person of her class and background to remain ignorant.
The other character is Paloma, a very intelligent and precocious 12-year old living in the apartment that Renee is looking after and who plans to commit suicide when she turns 13 for she believes that the world is a meaningless place to live in.
I don’t really like Renee. In fact, I dislike her. She is an old trout with smug, self-satisfied and condescending ways. On the other hand, I like Paloma. Alot. Her thoughts and observations about things and people are profound, insightful and soulful. I thought her character was very well written by the author.
I couldn’t resist copying out one of my favourite passages narrated by Paloma in the book about the grace, beauty, harmony and intensity of people which may possibly give meaning to life. Remember, she is looking for some form of meaning in life which makes her feel that she should continue living. Morbid, depressing, yes.
Then when the New Zealand players began their haka, I got it. In their midst was this very tall Maori player, really young. I’d had my eye on him right from the start, probably because of his height to begin with but then because of the way he was moving.
A really odd sort of movement, very fluid but above all very focused, I mean very focused within himself.
Most people, when they move, well they just move depending on whatever’s around them. At this very moment, as I am writing, Constitution the cat is going by with her tummy dragging close to the floor. This cat has absolutely nothing constructive to do in life and still she is heading toward something, probably an armchair. And you can tell from the way she’s moving: she is headed toward. Maman just went by in the direction of the front door, she’s going out shopping and in fact she already is out, her movement anticipating itself.
I don’t really know how to explain it, but when we move, we are in a way de-structured by our movement toward something: we are both here and at the same time not here because we’re already in the process of going elsewhere, if you see what I mean.
To stop de-structuring yourself, you have to stop moving altogether. Either you move and you’re no longer whole, or you’re whole and you can’t move. But that player, when I saw him go out onto the field, I could tell there was something different about him. I got the impression that he was moving, yes, but by staying in one place.
And Somu, the formidable New Zealand fullback – what an impressive player, with a colossal build: six foot eight, and two hundred and sixty pound, runs a hundred meters in eleven seconds, a fine specimen indeed ladies! Everyone was enthralled by him but no one seemed to know why.
Yet it became obvious in the haka: he was moving and making the same gestures as the other players (slapping the palms of his hands on his thighs, rhythmically drumming his feet on the ground, touching his elbows, and all the while looking the adversary in the eyes like a mad warrior) but while the others’ gestures went toward their adversaries and the entire stadium who were watching, this player’s gestures stayed inside him, stayed focused upon him, and that gave him an unbelievable presence and intensity.
And so the haka, which is a warrior chant, gained all its strength from him.
What makes the strength of a soldier isn’t the energy he uses trying to intimidate the other guy by sending him a whole lot of signals, it’s the strength he’s able to concentrate within himself, by staying centred.
That Maori player was like a tree, a great indestructible oak with deep roots and a powerful radiance – everyone could feel it. And yet you also got the impression that the great oak could fly, that it would be as quick as the wind, despite, or perhaps because of, its great roots.
The commentators were sort of hungover but they couldn’t hide the fact that they’d seen something really beautiful: a player who was running without moving, leaving everyone else behind him. And the others, who seemed by comparison to move with frenzied and awkward gestures, were incapable of catching up with him.
Why do these passages remind me of someone?