On 17th May, Mr B’s Emporium of Reading Delights, Bath played host to the author of the popular ‘The Elegance of the Hedgehog’; Muriel Barbery. The author was appearing to discuss her latest book ‘The Life of Elves’, in which two orphaned girls are raised in seperate communities but are unaware of each other’s existence and the fact that their mystical futures are entwined.
The event took place after closing time in the bookshop itself. Ushered into the upstairs area (used for their ‘reading spas’) and seated in several small rows, there was an intimate and cosy feeling to the evening. The discussion began with Nic Bottomly (Mr B) asking the questions and Muriel answering in her soothing French accent (despite apologising for her accent, the author spoke in near perfect English). The questions from Mr B were insightful and interesting sparking great depths of discussion surrounding The Life of Elves. Barbery explained that the idea for the elves had come a long time ago and had come back to her to create this book. She also told us this book bought her more satisfaction than her others, in particular because it took her back to the nature that she loved so much in her childhood.
The discussion then moved onto the translation of Barbery’s novels. She explained that she enjoys working closely with Alison Anderson (who translated her works into English). She added however that when translated into English her French writing loses some of its language techniques including the subjunctive. She went on to add that Alison helps to ensure that her writing not only makes sense but maintains its poetic flow.
She told us that she does little planning for her writing but rather lets her mind pour out onto paper. “Books are more intelligent than their authors” she stated, explaining that often when authors write they find things inside themselves and consequently their novels, that they didn’t know were there.
It quickly became clear that the author was intelligent, well read in both fiction novels and philosophy and cultured (the Life of Elves was greatly influenced by her time living in Japan) It was when she tried to describe the beautiful gardens of Japan that she thought of the elves, she thought the gardens were so stunning they could only be rationalised as being made by magical elves.
As the first half of the discussion ended, we were offered the chance to ask questions before being sent downstairs for food. Having already been provided with drinks (wine or soft) upon arrival at the event earlier the food was another lovely bonus provided for the event. Whilst we ate and chatted amongst ourselves the friendly and gracious Muriel Barbery also mingled, answering more questions about her books. It was during a conversation with Muriel that we learnt that Barbery has definite plans for a sequel to The Life of Elves and possibly a third (although she hadn’t decided yet).
Food eaten and drinks topped up, we headed back upstairs for the second part of the book discussion. This began with a reading of The Life of Elves in French by the author, although I understood little of it there was something mesmerising about the reading and the flow of words. After some more discussion about the author’s novels, Mr B bought up the shop’s rolling story. This story is one that has been written over time by authors that have visited and done events with the shop. Nic Bottomly explained the basis of the story so far and read the last few installments before finally reading what Barbery had added to the tale. The story was a unique idea and an amusing addition to the evening, some members of the audience even suggested it be published eventually. The discussion was brought to an end with any more questions from the audience.
The event ended with a book signing. Muriel sat at a small table of her books- The Elegance of the Hedgehog, The Gourmet and The Life of Elves (for those who hadn’t bought a book for signing). The author was sweet and happy to sign to two people in our copy of her latest book. Paying downstairs for the signed The Life of Elves (with 15% off with the events ticket), we left the shop book in hand after a great night spent in a bookshop.