Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery

Publisher Comments: The enthralling international bestseller.
We are in the center of Paris, in an elegant apartment building inhabited by bourgeois families. Renée, 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, Renée is a cultured 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 12-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 16th 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 Renée 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 Renée'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.

Quote from the book: Madame Michel has the elegance of the hedgehog: on the outside, she’s covered in quills, a real fortress, but my gut feeling is that on the inside, she has the same simple refinement as the hedgehog: a deceptively indolent little creature, fiercely solitary – and terribly elegant.

My Thoughts: At first I didn't like this book too much. The two narrators, loners, seemed to wallow in their aloneness, thinking about their intellgence and how others fall woefully short. However, as I kept reading and learning more about each one I began to like them. Then enters Kakuro Ozu, who seems to bring life back to both Renee and Paloma. Renee blooms with life and hope. Then....

This novel took me through the gambit of emotions. I laughed at some of Renee Michel's observations, sprinkled ramdomaly in her philosophical thoughts. I also laughed at some of Palomas observations in her "Profound Thoughts". I disliked, then liked, then loved the characters. This book broke my heart at the end. As trite as it may sound I laughed and I cried.

Paperback: 336 pages
Publisher: Europa Editions (September 2, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1933372605
ISBN-13: 978-1933372600
philosophy, literature, literary fiction


Anonymous said...

This was fairly high on my list of books to track down and read at one point, but slipped off my radar. Thanks for the reminder, and the warning to stick with in through the beginning.

Thomas at My Porch said...

I like loners and aloneness. I may have to move this one up the TBR.