‘The Life of Elves’ by Muriel Barbery ***

The Life of Elves, originally written in French, slots in rather wonderfully with the Woman in Translation month which is going on around the Internet during August. I was excited to begin this, very much enjoying, as I have, Gourmet Rhapsody and The Elegance of the Hedgehog9781609453152

This novel immediately had an incredibly different feel to it from the aforementioned; it is almost fairytale-like in its telling. It has garnered rather a split opinion from reviewers thus far; some call it ‘stunning’, and others ‘overwritten’ and ‘confusing’. I did find some of the sentences a little (okay, sometimes very) long, and it was necessary to read them a couple of times over at points to ensure that I was getting everything. This isn’t ordinarily something which I have to do whilst reading, but parts of The Life of Elves felt a touch saturated.

Another unusual factor for me was that whilst I was reading, I had no idea how I felt about the book. Ordinarily, I have a very good idea about which rating I’m going to give a particular piece when I’m around two or three chapters in. I decided on three stars after much deliberation; there were parts which I really admired – the fairytale feel, and some of the phrasing, although I do tend to agree that the whole is rather unnecessarily overwritten – and others which I did not – the pseudo-Narnian battle which came quite out of nowhere, and involved both talking creatures and children. (Reepicheep, anyone?)

The Life of Elves is intended to have a sequel; whilst I did enjoy reading it, on the whole, I can’t say I’m overly interested to see what happens next. It is both a strange and interesting book, and like the best fiction, it made me think an awful lot.

Purchase from The Book Depository

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2 thoughts on “‘The Life of Elves’ by Muriel Barbery ***

  1. Interesting about the long sentences, I wonder if that was a translation issue, it may have sounded more natural in the French. I’m reading Bonjour Tristesse at the moment and the very first sentence was discussed in an article on translation I read in the Guardian recently, the reader saying she was so looking forward to rereading it, then was shocked at the first sentence which was so different to what she had remembered and indeed in showing us the two sentences, one is quite clunky and the other more dreamy. I don’t usually have an issue with the translations, I read so many of them, but in terms of the creative effect, it really can be quite crucial.

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