Tuesday, July 5, 2011

"People aim for the stars, and they end up like goldfish in a bowl. I wonder if it wouldn't be simpler just to teach children right from the start that life is absurd."

The Elegance of the Hedgehog – Muriel Barbery

325 pages

Genre:  Contemporary; Literature; French

Summary:  The Elegance of the Hedgehog unfolds through the eyes of two Parisian narrators who live in the same building:  an aging concierge named Renee; and a suicidal twelve-year-old named Paloma.  Throughout the course of the novel, each narrator reflects upon their lives, and in the process, make discoveries about themselves.

Review:  If forced to summarize this novel in one word, I would definitely have to choose “fantastic.”  The Elegance of the Hedgehog hooked me from the very beginning and didn’t let up until the last page.

Both Paloma and Renee were believable, well-rounded characters, and I loved being able to get a glimpse into what their lives were like.  Paloma was such a smart kid, and her observations about life were incredibly illuminating, especially when her age was taken into consideration.  Her “profound thoughts” were quite interesting to read, and I looked forward to them whenever I saw the font change.  I thought it was really interesting that Renee tried to hide her true intellectual side in order to play the role of the stereotypical concierge.  It was quite heartbreaking that she felt she had to do this, yet I understood why it was necessary.  Both characters grew tremendously throughout the book, and it was quite an adventure to watch them do so.

Aside from being psychological observations about life, The Elegance of the Hedgehog also provided social commentary on the classes in modern-day Paris.  People had their airs and pretentions throughout, but as one could see when examining the two main characters, appearances could often be deceiving.  The way in which the book was written was lyrical and thought-provoking, and I read each page eagerly, taking breaks every once in awhile to really reflect upon what I had just read.

If you’re looking for a well-written book that focuses on the interior life of two distinct characters, definitely give The Elegance of the Hedgehog a try.

Rating:  5/5

Author read-alike:  Margaret Atwood

Other Books by Muriel Barbery:  Gourmet Rhapsody