The Life of Elves by Muriel Barbery


Two girls are connected by a shared heritage and a shared power. In France, Maria, lives on a farm where the whole village prospers from her presence, while in Italy, Clara, amazes all that hear her bring music to life. But how are they connected? And why?



  • Great descriptions
  • Strangely reminded me of the Night Circus


  • Found it hard to follow the plot
  • Couldn’t really connect with the characters
  • Couldn’t work out the time period
  • Really long sentences
  • Use of present tense
  • Speech sometimes feel out of place
  • Makes comments that take you out of the story

Despite the long cons list I actually quite enjoyed the story. The plot itself was a bit slow and oddly hard to follow at times – no idea why, not that much actually happens- but it kind of reminds me of the Night Circus, which I adore. Both don’t have particularly brilliant plots but there is some great descriptions and the use of magic is both imaginative and beautiful.


There had been a frost at dawn, and it sparkled from one end of the land to the other; then the sun came up, all of a sudden, above an earth now covered with a cloth that glistened like a sea of light.”


I loved most of the descriptions of nature in the book, which is funny since it’s what I hated about Tess of the D’Urbervilles. The book is as much about the arts – painting, music, and storytelling – and nature as it is about magic, in fact I’d almost say the magic is secondary to everything.


Since I do have such a long cons list I should talk about them.


I found it hard to connect with any of the characters. They didn’t feel real. The two girls were just too perfect, they didn’t do anything wrong and they were almost ethereal. The people of the villages were similar. They didn’t seem to do anything wrong, they started having slight doubts at one point about Maria but that felt like it was because of magic rather than anything and it only lasted a moment. They never hunted too much when everything was in abundance, they didn’t get too upset when their houses were destroyed and they more or less except death calmly and without fuss. It’s not how people react, is it?


Speaking of the characters, part of the reason I couldn’t follow the plot is because I kept mixing up the characters. They didn’t feel distinct from each other and maybe there was too many of them. There is a character list at the beginning but I found it distracting having to go back to the beginning to check who was who. It’s not helped that they – Maria and those around her – aren’t named for a really long time, just their family relation like father or aunt. It’s really confusing because there is a lot of them and they act really similar. Hell I keep mixing Clara and Maria up. If I hadn’t had a look at the synopsis I would have put that Clara was the one in France.



I also couldn’t get a feel for when the book is set. I don’t think any dates are mentioned or specific people are mentioned. They do mention a war – mostly in France – but not which war. I does feel reasonably recent, maybe the last 150 years at the most. No electricity is mentioned, but I’ve been to lots of isolated villages in Greece which sound very similar to the places in the book. Rome is visited but how its written doesn’t give much of a time period either. I think… I’d almost forgotten it…  there are guns, or rifles used in France but the ones with crossbows in that group were more effective than the rifles. It was just strange but not really that important.


All my other issues with the book were really minor. Most of sentences were really long, sometimes the length of paragraphs. Direct speech felt out of place at times, especially at the beginning, as there was so little of it.  Personally I don’t like the use of present tense, in any books, and I hate when you’re brought out of the story with things like: “I would not be surprised if, in the end, we find out that we are all the characters of some meticulous but mad novelist” or “Which has been demonstrated by modern medicine”. It brings you out of the story and reminds you that it is that… a story, and I like to be ignorant of that.


None of these of these things are that important. I enjoyed reading the book, even if it was for the descriptions more than anything and would recommend it for that alone.




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