The Elegance of the Hedgehog

The Elegance of the Hedgehog

by Muriel Barbery

Theresa Creagh (02/11/12): This unlikely story of a friendship between a widowed concierge in a Paris apartment building and 12 year old suicidal girl resident of said building actually grew on me as the book progressed. The story is a translation of a French novel and was a little pretentious at the beginning but the characters drew me in. The juxtaposition of the lower class with the wealthy class is a major theme in how the central characters view themselves. I was cruising along very happily reading this book until pages from its conclusion. The ending was seriously disappointing and did not make sense at all. I still would recommend it but if this book were made into a movie the ending would have to be changed!
Rating: ***

Gwendolyn Waring: I agree with Anne, this is a well written and challenging book. One gets accustomed to "easy" reads. While I do not knock such books because they serve to entertain us; they do not seduce the mind. The challenge of this book caused me to put it down a couple of times. Initially, I was bored by the changing narratives; but the compelling observations of the narrators on their lives and surroundings drew me into the story and I eventually committed to the book and was well rewarded
Rating: ****

Anne Ferber: This lovely gem of a book does not have a strong plot line. Rather it juxtoposes, in alternating chapters, two parallel internal monologues: one, of a a plain, self-educated concierge who serves a rich and haughty clientelle, and the other a rich, precocious twelve-year-old girl with lofty and grandiose philosphical ideas on the meaning of life, particularly human relationships.

Renee, the concierge, and Paloma, the girl, both extremely intelligent, pass each other in the course of daily events without realizing that their intellectual ruminations would find great sympathy in the other if only they were known. Each, however, feels herself an outsider and thus refuses to allow her inner thoughts on art, philosophy, psychology and humanity in general to become exposed.

The reader, of course, greatly benefits from these disquistitions as they are not only funny and illuminating, but also extremely well written and challenging. Everything changes when a new tenant, Mr. Ozu, arrives and brings fresh light into the dark corners of Renee's and Paloma's vulnerable personal secrets. That, plus the fact that they discover each other is very satisfying.

Somehow, this book with its thoughtful investigation of the meaning of Art and Beauty reminds me of "Bel Canto", although the story line is much more contained. I highly recommend this as a challenging and enjoyable read.
Rating: ****

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