Book Review: The Elegance of the Hedgehog

November 13, 2013 Book Review, reviews 17

Book Review: The Elegance of the HedgehogThe Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery
Published by Europa Editions on September 2nd, 2008
Genres: Fiction
Pages: 325
Source: Local Library
AmazonBarnes & Noble

Renee is the concierge of a grand Parisian apartment building, home to members of the great and the good. Over the years she has maintained her carefully constructed persona as someone reliable but totally uncultivated, in keeping, she feels, with society's expectations of what a concierge should be. But beneath this facade lies the real Renee: passionate about culture and the arts, and more knowledgeable in many ways than her employers with their outwardly successful but emotionally void lives. Down in her lodge, apart from weekly visits by her one friend Manuela, Renee lives resigned to her lonely lot with only her cat for company. Meanwhile, several floors up, twelve-year-old Paloma Josse is determined to avoid the pampered and vacuous future laid out for her, and decides to end her life on her thirteenth birthday. But unknown to them both, the sudden death of one of their privileged neighbours will dramatically alter their lives forever.

Have you ever started a book and in the first few pages thought “Oh my gosh this person is so depressing there’s no way I’m reading this!”?  But almost like a train wreck you have to keep reading to see if it is really as bad as all that?

The Elegance of the Hedgehog was our book club’s pick for November.  Not only was it a book club pick it was a book club pick selected by my baby girl {who is not such a baby at 19!} thus I had to read it completely.  Especially since she kept texting and calling me “have you started the book yet? have you finished the book yet? it’s the greatest book of all time. . .”  Now how could I not finish it after all that encouragement?!?  between us friends though ~ I thought she may have chosen the depressing novel to torture me or something or that her reading tastes may not be up to par {i know ~ **gasp**}


I kept reading. And honestly about a 1/4 of my way into the book I started to see the charm and beauty in this French million+ bestseller.

On the way home I thought: pity the poor in spirit who know neither the enchantment nor the beauty of language.   (Profound Thought No. 10)

This novel is one in which the little things are of utmost importance.  The beauty of a camellia, the ceremony of hot tea, a languid movement without movement of a soccer player all come together to give meaning and substance to the characters.  Renee, the aging, unattractive, yet incredibly smart concierge sees the residents of Number 7 rue de Grenelle as snobbish and stereotypical all while hiding behind the stereotype of “concierge.”  Paloma, the precocious twelve year old resident sees no purpose in living to adulthood ~ she’s brilliant, unpretentious and dislikes greatly the attitude of her parents and all wealthy people.  Paloma has decided to end her life on her 13th birthday but  in the meantime til her birthday she journals her “profound thoughts.”

This novel begins with two characters who feel their lives are meaningless and takes us through their journey discovering the simple joys of life.  Both Paloma and Renee struggle with their identity and yet it’s through their friendship that they begin to find out who each person is and who each can become.

There are moments of sheer hilarity ~ Renee finally accepts an invitation to new resident Kikuro Ozu’s apartment because of their shared love of Anna Karenina.  While there she has an awkward moment in asking to use the restroom, and it becomes even more awkward when she emerges after listening to the symphony instead of the toilet flushing!  Both Ozu and Renee have a shared laugh over the Japanese tradition to play music over the sound of the toilet flushing.  {hmmm, kind of cool tradition!}

And moments of heartbreaking sadness.  Paloma’s despair over not finding meaning in life, Renee’s hiding of her truest self behind a shuffling, bumbling, dumbed-down facade come to a head when a new tenant moves into Number 7 rue de Grenelle.  Hope is found.  Joy is sought.  And lives are forever changed.

A tour de force, literary masterpiece that should be read and savored. . .with copious amounts of hot tea.

17 Responses to “Book Review: The Elegance of the Hedgehog”

    • Stacy

      Oh gosh I know! That ending was a doozy! I think that song by Alanis Morissette started playing in my head when I read that ending “Ironic”. . .

    • Stacy

      I had never even heard of the novel until my daughter went to Europe this past summer for school; someone there told her about it and she “badgered” us all into reading it 🙂
      it ended up being fabulous! Let me know what you think about it when you get to it!

    • Stacy

      I still don’t know that I”d say it’s been a “best” read but it’s certainly been one that has made me think. . .I loved Paloma’s “profound thoughts” ~ it’s a great way to keep in mind what is important. So glad someone else found it amazing!

    • Stacy

      Oh wow! I didn’t even think to check into an audio version ~ I imagine that was especially wonderful! Did the narrator do a good job in creating different voices for Paloma and Renee?

        • Stacy

          My daughter is trying to have a re-read of it already as 2 people in book club didn’t finish…I will share this about the audio version and see if its available on audible ~ i’ve got some credits i haven’t used yet this month and this would be a good one to listen to during traveling this holiday! Thanks for the tip!

    • Stacy

      nope, not too smart for you at all! you are the most well-read person i know! there are references to philosophy throughout but mostly it’s all about accepting yourself/loving yourself and all the perfections and imperfections ~ i’d love to see what you thought about it!

  1. Whitney

    My aunt sent me a copy of this book, she thought of me while reading it as I gravitate towards depressing novels. It is still on my shelf but I will have to read it soon. Great review!
    Whitney recently posted…InsurgentMy Profile

  2. Catherine

    I’m so glad you stuck with it! I don’t know how I came across it but after finishing it (and crying) I added it to my list of all-time-favorites. So small and simple and yet profoundly huge.
    Catherine recently posted…Doctor Sleep: A NovelMy Profile

  3. litandlife

    I had the same reaction with this book (I think I might have been a full half way through the book before my opinion changed). Once I hit that turning point, I was so happy I have never been able to give up on a book. By the time I got done, I was so sad to be finished.
    litandlife recently posted…Life: It Goes On – November 17My Profile

  4. stacybuckeye

    When I listened to this a few years ago I thought for sure most of it was going to go over my head. The first cd or two was very heavy, but, like you, I grew to really like it, especially because the ending really got me.

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