“The Elegance of the Hedgehog” by Muriel Barbery is a fictional book set in Paris, France. The book discusses philosophy, culture, the class system and more – sometimes on account of a strong story.
- 336 pages
- Publisher: Europa Editions
- ISBN: 9781933372600
My rating for The Elegance of the Hedgehog – 4
When I first started reading “The Elegance of the Hedgehog” by Muriel Barbery (fan website) I didn’t know what to think of it. I have heard of this book but I have little tolerance to authors which consider themselves intellectuals and talk down to their readers.
Luckily, this book was not such a book. It is the smart, funny and touching story of two narrators. Renée is a widowed concierge in her 50s, she is self conscious who thinks she will lead an easy life if the doesn’t let others know how smart she is. Paloma, the second narrator, is a 12 year old girl who lives in the building which Renée works in (and lives in as well). Paloma plans to commit suicide once she turns 13.
The book alternated between the two ladies. The reader sees the world through Renée, but only gets to read Paloma’s writing which she calls “Profound Thoughts”. The two of them have much in common (love of Japanese culture, similar views on existence, disdain of the absurd life of the wealthy who live in the building and more) even though they come from very different backgrounds and generations.
As I mentioned, I don’t like books which talk down to the reader, books which are too forced and self-important. At the beginning I thought this was the case, all the talk about Proust, Tolstoy, philosophy and famed Japanese filmmaker Yasujirō Ozu’s movies seemed to hover above the line of clever and too clever. But the more I read, and I’m glad I did, the book slid from being overly structured to graceful.
The story is told through short chapters, more like a collection of essays but it works wonderfully. The two narrators’ sharp minds and wit come off the pages as well as Barbery’s talent in writing philosophical fiction. This is one of those books that you can read several times and discover something new each and every time.
On a side note, the book I read had many footnotes from the translator explaining the cultural (especially European) and philosophical references. If it wasn’t for those footnotes I would have found it difficult to enjoy the book.
So tell me, which book do you like to read more than once?
Renée is the concierge of a bourgeois apartment building in Paris. She hides behind a rough exterior of an uneducated person to avoid the pretentious people who she sees everyday. In the same building lives Paloma, the daughter of one of the residents who plan to commit suicide once she reaches the age of 13.
Even though Renée and Paloma don’t know one another their observations about life are very similar.
Zohar – Man of la Book
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BOOK BLOGGERS – Have you read “The Elegance of the Hedgehog”? If so link up your review below: