The Elegance Of The Hedgehog
By Muriel Barbery
What’s it about?
This unusual book alternates between two French narrators. The first narrator, Renee Michel, is a 54-year-old concierge working in an older building in Paris. The second voice, Paloma, is a twelve-year-old student that lives in the same building with her family. For different reasons, both characters hide their intelligence from the world. Renee and Paloma have strong ideas on lots of philosophical questions. Initially, we hear from each of them in what can best be described as short essays. The last half of the book a new character is introduced and the plot picks up. Monsieur Ozu moves into the building and this will change Renee and Paloma in ways they never expected.
What did it make me think about?This book made me feel intelligent one minute, and then stupid the next three minutes. I did enjoy thinking about philosophy for the first time since my college days. Especially the idea that we often do not get past our own preconceptions when we meet people for the first time. We often just see what we expect to see.
Should I read it?
This is a book you will either love or hate! You will either find it incredibly pretentious or amusing. I think it will elicit strong responses. The first half of the book is character driven and the second half is plot driven. If you like quirky characters this will draw you in. I really enjoyed it. The three main characters were very likable and I found myself rooting for them. I was amused and challenged by this book. I was ready for a story that I could just enjoy and this hit the mark for me.
“As for Madame Michel…how can we tell? She radiates intelligence. And yet she really makes an effort, like, you can tell she is doing everything she possibly can to act like a concierge and come across as stupid. But I’ve been watching her….. Madame Michel has the elegance of a 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 creature, fiercely solitary- and terribly elegant.