Muriel Barbery was born May 28th, 1969 in Casablanca, Morocco. She was raised in France. She entered the École Normale Supérieure de Fontenay-Saint-Cloud in 1990 and obtained her agrégation in philosophy in 1993. She then taught philosophy at the Université de Bourgogne, in a lycée, and at the Saint-Lô IUFM. She currently lives in Japan with her husband Stéphane.
She is a French novelist and professor of philosophy. She has written two books that has been translated into English, Gourmet Rhapsody (original title Une Gourmandise, 2000) and The Elegance of the Hedgehog (original title: L’Élégance du hérisson, 2006).
In an interview at bookbrowse.com she was asked how she felt about being a publishing sensation. Her answer was:
Surprise, incredulity and joy! When the book was first published in France, in September 2006, I thought that nobody would read it and I was readying myself for some other pursuit, in addition to teaching. The fact that the book corresponded to the tastes of readers, and that it has crossed the borders into other countries, surprises me. I still cannot completely explain to myself what happened. I am, also, incredibly happy about this unexpected fate. This success has allowed me to realize some of my dreams, to live in Japan and to be able to write full-time.
About the charcters in her book, she said:
You have portrayed two rather unusual characters. Young Paloma is disarming; she remains implacable before the hypocrisies of her “caviar left” family; but Renée, secretly refined concierge, is perhaps the more singular if two.
I was inspired by the idea of a reserved, cultured concierge who turned stereotypes on their head and at the same time created a compelling comic effect. With her keen perspective on things, this character then opened the door on a kind of social criticism. I wasn’t interested in writing a fairytale about a kind concierge and an adorable child. I wanted to confront themes that were tragic, or absurd, real, while maintaining a light touch. I wanted to explore the natures of two people who were both lonely and distant and who end up finding one another.
What really unites them?
Both ask themselves where beauty lies. The young girl is convinced that it lies hidden in fragile, fleeting things. She searches for it in movement, which is elusive by definition. And she finds it. Perhaps even during a rugby match, in the hypnotic movements of a Maori rugby player.
In an interview with Time she says the following about why she thinks The Elegance of the Hedgehog has been so successful:
Barbery thinks her book has enjoyed such universal success because people everywhere are worried about superficiality overtaking substance in their lives. She says her cast of “improbable characters and clashing perspectives has managed to interest an equally improbable range of readers from very different backgrounds.” It would be a surprise if those who read English proved any less susceptible to this book’s charms.