Saturday, July 3, 2010

The Elegance of the Hedgehog

The Elegance of the Hedgehog The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery

On the library stacks: Adult fiction
Awards: 2007 French Booksellers Prize; 2007 Brive-la-Gaillarde Reader's Prize; Prix du Rotary International

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Renee Michel is a fifty-four year old concierge for a luxury apartment building in Paris. She lives in her small loge where she successfully plays the role she is expected to by the residents. She's poor, uneducated, loves her cat, and stays relatively unnoticed. But Renee has a secret: She's incredibly intelligent. She reads Russian literature, studies philosophy, appreciates art, good food, the cinema, and Japanese culture.

Paloma Josse is a 12-year old resident in Renee's building. Born to privilege, she tries playing the role she is expected to play. She does well in school (but not too well), smiles and nods when her parents have guests. But Paloma has a few secrets: She has decided to end her life on her thirteenth birthday and burn the apartment down. Startlingly gifted and wise beyond her years, Paloma is secretly disgusted with the hypocritical way her parents and older sister choose to live their lives. She doesn't want to end up like the adults she sees who spend a great deal of time trying to make their lives have meaning when there's no substance behind their actions.

This is a slow meandering book where the threads of the plot come together nicely at the end. It is a character-driven novel and I enjoyed the dual voices of Renee and Paloma. This is a good book for those who enjoy musing over art, philosophy, politics, religion, culture and morality. I thought there were a few times it got a little heavy-handed and over-the-top, but overall I enjoyed this one. I have a feeling that some ideas brought forward in this book will stick with me for awhile. It isn't a book to rush through, but it is certainly well worth the time I spent with it.

Also reviewed by: Life and Times of a "New" New Yorker ~ Novels Now (Caribousmom) ~ Novels Now (Laura) ~ The Avid Reader's Musings ~ Your link here?

Book 57 of 100 for the 100+ Reading Challenge, Book 36 of 50 for the New Author Challenge, Book 44 of 55 for the Countdown Challenge (2006), Book 5 of 8 for the Orbis Terrarum Challenge (Morocco)

Source: Purchased


bermudaonion said...

I'm glad to see you enjoyed this. It's been in my TBR pile for a while, but it's one of those books that I've avoided because I'm afraid I'm not quite smart enough for it.

StephTheBookworm said...

Glad to hear this was a good one. I've been wanting to read it. I love character driven novels the best.

Avid Reader said...

I just finished this one as well and had a similar reaction. I agree that I'll probably be thinking about this book for awhile.

Here's my review...

Paige said...

I started this a while ago but didn't finish it because the meandering was taking me too long to read and I had to return it to the library. I'll try again later when I have more time for that kind of reading. I have heard good things about it so I'm glad to see your good review and know that I should try to get through it again.