‘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.

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