Sunday, November 22, 2009

Could "The Most Beautiful Book in the World" be the Book we Rec to Folks Who Loved "The Elegance of the Hedgehog"? I Finally Read it to Find Out

Yes, I heard that my friend Lanora at Next Chapter Bookstore in Mequon was very hot on The Most Beautiful Book in the World. No sordid secrets here, as she told me directly. As the pile of books is always very tall, I did what I normally do and started telling folks about the good rec from another bookseller.

It's a lovely surreal jacket, and it's from Europa, so it has the lovely French flaps and paper that is much thicker than newsprint. It has an Indie Next rec so you know at least some other indie booksellers have been behind it.

I bought my copy at Harvard Bookstore on one of my trips to Mom. I often try to buy books when I visit other bookstores. I think its important for booksellers to keep it real when thinking about how much the books cost and what it takes to shell out cash for a place you like. And I like Harvard Bookstore, so that wasn't difficult. I also bought some postcards. I wish I had a postcard rack, but the best ones are Nouvelles Images at Beans and Barley and I'd rather send folks down there for a nice meal and postcard experience (Note to Lynn: why not a combo package? Buy a meal and postcard and get the stamp free. Just kidding).

Oh, am I writing a blog about Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt's The Most Beautiful Book in the World? And have I been writing his 2nd name with only one M? I have. Sorry.
But what I'm really looking for is my next Elegance of the Hedgehog. Do I have it here?

"Wanda Winnipeg" is about a woman who has everything who catches a glimpse of her old crush from her childhood years, a struggling artist with pretty much nothing. "A Fine Rainy Day" follows a woman whose practical negativism is subsumed when she meets a plain but upbeat suitor (don't read this to Barbara Ehrenreich at bedtime!) And the protagonist of "The Intruder" is surprised by an old woman sneaking into her house, and not just once.

So anyway, this collection has been a big hit in Europe. One of the stories, "Odette Toulemonde", was a film in 2007. Now it appears that the story did not become the film. Instead, it was inspired when Schmitt was directing a film. His contract forbade him to ski, and it was suggested that he do no other writing during the tenure of his project. As it was only suggested, he ignored that advice and adapted the film he was directing into a story, and wrote others as well.

These are almost fables in their conception. They are stories with twists, of folks who find happiness or peace or truth after long journeys in the wrong direction. The author himself spells it out in one story, by describing a book of people who follow the route of other people's happiness instead of their own. Oh, and by that, I don't mean making other people happy, but the tried and true routes (money, fame, beauty) to personal contentment. I'm not giving anything away here to tell you that the author thinks there are some flaws in that strategy.

So here's the thing. This is the classic case where you shouldn't listen to my personal taste. I love nostalgia and pathos and twists, but Schmitt's stories provide a very high dosage of each, a bit more than my taste. Barbery sort of skirted the edges, pulling me back when I felt I was falling into a pit of emotion. Some Schmitt's stories I did enjoy quite a bit. But will it work for folks who liked Elegance of the Hedgehog? My unequivocal answer: yes, for some of them.
Oh, and perhaps the style is the author's, but if the writing reminds you a touch of The Elegance of the Hedgehog, it might be because Alison Anderson is the translator of both. Here's a list of Schmitt's other books in France.

No comments: