The Cherry Plum Test

“The cherry plum test is held in my kitchen. I place the fruit and the book on the Formica table, and as I pick up the former to taste it, I also start on the latter. If each resists the powerful onslaught of the other, if the cherry plum fails to make me doubt the text and if the text is unable to spoil the fruit, then I know that I am in the presence of a worthwhile… undertaking…” (The Elegance of the Hedgehog, Muriel Barbery).

What an interesting way to judge books – perhaps this book litmus test should be the standard for any review (save I don’t know where to find any cherry plums, but even Renee makes do with chocolate in a pinch). The cherry plum test isn’t performed merely to find out if the allure of a work of art or philosophy can withstand the pleasure of the senses, but whether they balance each other. Neither the book nor the plum can overpower its challenger for a successful result. In other words, if a book sucks the reader into its world so fully and powerfully that they are unaware of their body and surroundings, that book is not a worthwhile read. I wonder how many popular action-packed, drama-filled, and even intellectually stimulating books would pass this test?

The Elegance of the Hedgehog certainly would. Through her careful thoughts and prose, Barbery ensures that her readers will enjoy every beautiful moment and “profound thought” but also won’t be sucked into an obsessive and inescapable world. This balancing continues even to the tragic ending: it side-steps pure drama by a sufficient counter-weight of hope and healing. Reading this book is lovely, I exclaimed my delight to no one in particular several times, yet the desire to pick it up only came to me when I had finished the day and had the time to delight in it.

Beverage recommendation: brew some strong coffee… and then don’t drink it.
Instead, savor its aroma while sipping on a piping hot cup of jasmine tea.


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