Title: The Elegance of the Hedgehog
Author: Muriel Barbery
Release Date: September 2, 2008 (first published January 1, 2006)
Publisher: Europa Editions
Awards: Best Translated Book Award Nominee for Fiction Longlist (2009), Prix des Libraires (2007), Brive-La-Gaillarde Readers Prize (2007), French-American Foundation Translation Prize Nominee for Fiction (2008), Prix Georges Brassens (2006), Prix Rotary (2007)
Finished Reading: July 28, 2014
About: “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 twelve-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 sixteenth 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.”
I picked up this book, not because I found it in the bookstore and it sounded cool. Not because it had been recommended to me many a-times. Not because it had been flying off the shelves at the library. I picked up this book because it was a chosen book for a book club meeting that I couldn’t even attend. I decided I still wanted to read the book, though I would not be able to attend the formal book talk, because I still wanted to know what my book club friends would be talking about for the following weeks until the next book is decided.
I’m not exactly sure how I feel about the book. I had a really hard time giving it a rating. At this very minute, this very line, I still do not know what I’m going to rate it at the end of this post. I guess we’ll start with pros and cons.
- Language. The language really challenged me. While it was definitely pretentious, I enjoyed that I needed to keep a dictionary next to me while reading. I like reading books that are going to make me think and expand my vocabulary. There was subtle humor throughout Paloma and Renee’s chapters that I found endearing and giggled a couple times.
- Multiple narrators. As I mentioned in previous posts, I do enjoy multiple narrators if done correctly. I think this book did an okay job with the multiple narrators. (See cons for a more detailed explanation.)
- Character growth. I loved the character growth that both characters exhibit and go through. Paloma starts out as an angsty, wise, young girl with the intent of putting down her thoughts before suicide. Renee starts the book as an older (not elderly) concierge of a hotel and hides her genius.
- There is a great example of repetition with the whole idea of the camellias. Enjoyed the meaning behind the flowers.
- Language. It was pretentious as all get-out. PRETENTIOUS. A couple of my reader friends said they cried. One cried many times. I didn’t feel that connected and I blame the language for this one.
- Multiple narrators. Both narrators were seemingly the same. They both had an air about them. They both hid the fact that they were super smart. They both had similar experiences with various characters. What was the point of multiple narrators? I’m not sure. Each one could have been it’s own book. Not sure why it was necessary.
- Character growth. There was absolutely character growth, buut right when things were turning around – when they were getting good – it ends. The book has it’s climax and it’s done. I wanted so much more. I almost felt abandoned by the author. It was just insanely abrupt and I’m not sure about how I feel about it. I understand “why” on one hand, but the other is just a twenty-something-dirtbag wanting so much more resolution. Was I satisfied? I don’t know. I’m left with a weird taste in my mouth.
As mentioned before, I waffled over what the rating should be. I really liked that I was challenged. I wrote notes in my book – the first time in, like, forever. However, there are some things that I wasn’t completely sold on.
My rating and why: I give this three. Mostly because I’m not sure what I should do with it. I like it buuuuuuuut there are definitely questions. For that reason, maybe my rating should be higher. Maybe it should be a four, but not right now. Perhaps I’ll read this again, down the road, and think this post to be silly and naive. For now, it’s a three.
Now it’s your turn! Tell me what you think in the comments below. Are you a fan of books that make you have to look up words? Do you look them up or just take from context? Is this book on your “to-read” list? Have you read anything else by Barbury? Do you just want to say hi? Like. Comment. Follow. New book review to come out every Monday.
Until next time my fellow bibliophiles!