Book Review of The Elegance of the Hedgehog

The Elegance of the Hedgehog
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This book has made me question my toleration of hyper-intelligent narrators--especially children--in literature. First, this phenomenon, rather like amnesia, occurs much more frequently in fiction than in real life. I suppose this is so the author can use an "adult" voice to examine a child's world; this can be done well, if the child's underlying naivete offsets the intellect and big words (The Last Samurai). It is not done well here. I draw the line at a twelve year old girl waxing poetic on war and military service which she experienced, I can only guess, within the pages of War & Peace. For example: "Don't we deal with life the way we do our military service? Doing what we can, while we wait either to be demobbed or do battle?" (86). I found this world-weary voice off-putting, coming from a child's mouth. Just where does the "prodigy" voice end and the author's own self-absorbed elucidations on life begin? There is no child in this voice at all. It is not a good thing when the voices of our two narrators, a 54 year old "autodidact" concierge and the aforementioned nauseatingly precocious child, are so similar their POV must be indicated by different fonts.

A good story and well-drawn characters a reader cares about can still save a story; sadly, neither appeared in this book. The narrators are hypocritical, hateful people. They complain that the well-off people around them are stupid and unappreciative. I especially loved how the concierge Renee dismantles the argument of a philosophy student's thesis which she reads secretly, and attacks the study of theoretical concepts that do nothing to make society better. Meanwhile, she hides her own intellectual prowess for astoundingly stupid and outdated reasons, which are supposed to create the only "tension" and plot semblance of this novel. When a Japanese sensei-guru-stereotype character with no discernible flaws arrives on the scene, he does his best to draw out our two precocious intellects. By the time the narrators acknowledge that they still have the capacity to learn something new, I had stopped caring.