The Elegance of the Hedgehog Author:Muriel Barbery We are in the center of Paris, in an elegant apartment building inhabited by bourgeois families. Rena', the concierge, is witness to the lavish but vacuous lives of her numerous employers. Outwardly she conforms to every stereotype of the concierge: fat, cantankerous, addicted to television. Yet, unbeknownst to her employers, Rena' is a cultured... more » autodidact who adores art, philosophy, music, and Japanese culture. With humor and intelligence she scrutinizes the lives of the building's tenants, who for their part are barely aware of her existence. Then there's Paloma, a twelve-year-old genius. She is the daughter of a tedious parliamentarian, a talented and startlingly lucid child who has decided to end her life on the sixteenth of June, her thirteenth birthday. Until then she will continue behaving as everyone expects her to behave: a mediocre pre-teen high on adolescent subculture, a good but not an outstanding student, an obedient if obstinate daughter. Paloma and Rena' hide both their true talents and their finest qualities from a world they suspect cannot or will not appreciate them. They discover their kindred souls when a wealthy Japanese man named Ozu arrives in the building. Only he is able to gain Paloma's trust and to see through Rena's timeworn disguise to the secret that haunts her. This is a moving, funny, triumphant novel that exalts the quiet victories of the inconspicuous among us.« less
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What a stunning, gorgeously-written book! I've placed it on my All-Time Top 5 List without hesitation. The narrative perspective switches back and forth between a cranky, secretly-erudite Concierge at a high-end French luxury building and the genius-but-equally-cranky 12-year-old daughter of one of the residents, a Socialist member of the French government. With equal parts Ignatius J. Reilly'esque laugh-out-loud outrage at the world & people's stupidity mixed with a survey of modern literature and key philosophical ideas, this elegant book covers everything from profound ideas to the profound ways that people hide - from each other and themselves. The sudden ending actually made me cry, which was when I realized how invested I had become in the characters.
I really liked this one, although I did skip over a few of the more "abstract" of the tiny chapters. Paloma, the younger co-protagonist did come off as a tad too precocious at times, so I could understand folks disliking her for that reason; Renee, the other main character, wasn't nearly as over-the-top. Moreover, the supporting characters carry their own weight, not just two-dimensional props.
The book has been described as a "fable", but I'd say it's as much a parody, though there's a moral to the story.
Reading this book is sometimes hard going, but deeply satisfying. For anyone who has struggled with the meaning of life and death (and who has not?), it provides moments of strain and pain, and times of rare joy. Be sure to read it all the way through.
Vanessa L. reviewed The Elegance of the Hedgehog on
Helpful Score: 6
This book takes a little reading before you are drawn into it, but I can't encourage you enough to keep reading. The characters are well developed in their own idiosyncratic ways. The plot is slow, because the plot isn't really what the book is about. And yet by the end, I found myself rooting for the two main characters. While occasionally the dialog of the 12-yr old girl may at times seem unbelievable for a youngster, I decided to read those segments instead as a interlude between chapters to reflect upon some aspect of life. And the child in the girl does come out, eventually. As do the hopes and dreams of the stifled concierge. This book is about so much more than the story line itself - even the title speaks to the metaphors and morals the story has to give.
This novel takes place in Paris, where a concierge of an apartment complex for wealthy patrons, a thirteen-year old girl, and a new Japanese resident intersect each other's lives--and their hearts. Rife with witty, often funny, musings about life, death, and art, this book drew me in slowly, making me care for Paloma, the thirteen-year old, Renee, the concierge and secretly self educated woman, and the gentle Kazuro, who sees through them both, becoming Paloma's friend...and drawing Renee into the light of life and love.
It was wonderful, heartbreaking, beautiful, and funny. Rread this book, and you won't forget it.
Such a lovely book. It is insightful, thought-provoking, uplifting and heartbreaking, but not in that tragic way modern fiction has adopted just to be shocking. You come away from the book feeling better for having read it and not as though it has taken something from you. Recommend highly.
This was not one of my favorite "reads" although it was entertaining in parts. The author won many prizes for this and so I believe it was written well. The girl who is the main character learns many things about the dynamics of life and family.
It's not often there comes along a book whose denouement leaves the reader saddened, but not saddened, but this is one such book. It is an intriguing story of the inner lives of two persons, a 54-year-old widow who is the concierge of an apartment building in Paris, and a 12 and a half year old girl, the precocious daughter of one of the tenants. The concierge, Madame Michel, or Renee, has secluded herself from the larger world and its hypocrisies; the very intelligent pre-teen, Paloma, is secretly planning her rather dramatic suicide. Barbery uses interior monologues to acqaint us with the thoughts and feelings of the two. We also learn of the various tenants in the building, in particular, of the 'new' tenant, Monsieur Ozu, a highly cultured Japanese gentleman and scholar, who enters, briefly but significantly, the lives of both Renee and Paloma. Un livre charmant.