In Muriel Barbery’s The Elegance of the Hedgehog, we enter the mind of a precocious 12-year-old French girl through entries in her journal, and this excerpt describes her experience sitting on the benches of the school gym at the performance of her school choir.
The scene is set thus:
So yesterday, off I headed to the gymnasium at a trot, led by Madame Fine . . . ‘Led by’ is saying a lot: she did what she could to keep up the pace, wheezing like an old whale. Eventually we got to the gym, everybody found a place as best they could. I was forced to listen to the most asinine conversations coming at me from below, behind, on every side, all around (in the tiered seats), and in stereo (mobile, fashion, mobile, who’s going out with whom, mobile, rubbish teachers, mobile, Cannelle’s party) and then finally the choir arrived to thunderous applause . . . silence fell and the performance began.
And then, the pièce de résistance.
Every time, it’s a miracle. Here are all these people, full of heartache or hatred or desire, and we all have our troubles and the school year is filled with vulgarity and triviality and consequence, and there are all these teachers and kids of every shape and size, and there’s this life we’re struggling through full of shouting and tears and laughter and fights and break-ups and dashed hopes and unexpected luck — it all disappears, just like that, when the choir begins to sing. Everyday life vanishes into song, you are suddenly overcome with a feeling of brotherhood, of deep solidarity, even love, and it diffuses the ugliness of everyday life into a spirit of perfect communion. Even the singers’ faces are transformed . . . I see human beings, surrendering into music.
Every time, it’s the same thing. I feel like crying, my throat goes all tight and I do the best I can to control myself but sometimes I come close: I can hardly keep myself from sobbing . . . I’m no longer myself, I am just one part of a sublime whole, to which the others also belong, and I always wonder at such moments why this cannot be the rule of everyday life, instead of being an exceptional moment, during a choir performance.
It’s marvellous because we feel her sentiment and so it feels true, and you think you could have written something like that yourself.
But of course not. Still, maybe something like it.