cover image The Life of Elves

The Life of Elves

Muriel Barbery, trans. from the French by Alison Anderson. Europa, $17 trade paper (224p) ISBN 978-1-60945-315-2

In an unnamed year, France and Italy are home to small groups of elves living precariously among dangerous humans. Two young girls can bridge the gap between human and elven cultures and save the elves, but only if they survive a story whose urgency doesn’t match its pace. Anderson captures the rich, beautiful language of Barbery (Gourmet Rhapsody), such as “the noble dust of cellars” and “childhood is the dream that allows us to understand what we do not yet know.” Despite elven politics, Christianity, and war, the plot feels secondary and downplayed. Distant narration, exemplified by an entire chapter without dialogue and phrases like “It must be told what this child was,” draw attention to the words, not the characters. Just as battle is coming, readers are stopped by descriptions of the numerous participants, breaking the tension and typifying a reading experience in which the parts are greater than the whole. (Feb.)