04 September 2010

ode to the well-placed comma

The elegance of the hedgehog by Muriel Barbery is beautifully written, originally in French and translated by Alison Anderson. There are two main characters and the chapters are written in the voice of one or the other. The older of the main characters is the widowed concierge "at a bourgeois building in a posh Parisian neighborhood." She mostly plays the stereotype of slump and TV-watcher for the benefit of others; she really is entranced by art and cultural things. She is also quite a reader.

When one of the tenants dies and wilts her camellias, the concierge Renée Michel gets a note from another tenant that includes this sentence: Would you be so kind as, to sign for the packages from the dry cleaner's this afternoon?

For the next couple pages, we are in Mme Michel's thoughts as she contemplates the misplaced comma after "as." Barbery fills these two pages with incredible sentences of dependent and independent clauses, modifying descriptions, and other complex construction that result in a beautiful tribute to the correct use of the comma.

I'm not much past this passage which appears on pages 108-110 of the paperback edition. Materfamilias Reads has also blogged this matter and has typed in a good portion of the section I'm talking about. cf http://materfamiliasreads.blogspot.com/2009/04/muriel-barberys-elegance-of-hedgehog.html Materfamilias has only selected and typed one paragraph but it's the whole two pages that just fills me with delight but then, like Materfamilias, I'm probably a punctuation pedant. I should probably look up the French original; though my French is not great, I'd probably be able to work my way through this section.

1 comment:

Ross said...

Let me know, what you find out when you pick up the French original.