The Elegance of the Hedgehog – Book Review

HedgehogA little while ago, I finished reading The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery.  It was actually a book club selection.  A friend of mine had mentioned it as a possibility earlier and it seemed interesting.

Let me start off by saying that I like to read.  A lot.  Last year and the year before, I read over 60 books each year.  I started reading this book in November.  For the length of it, I should have had it done in a week, tops.  I finished it March 2nd.

The thing is, I don’t really know why.  I will blame part of it on having a small child at Christmas time.  You definitely get sidetracked by other things and life gets very busy.  That doesn’t account for the first two months of the New Year though.  This is a book that you need to be able to sit down and dedicate an afternoon or two to reading.  I never seemed to be able to do that.  A chapter here, a chapter there is not the way to read this book.  When I finally was able to sit and dedicate some time to it – on March 2nd – I finished it all and actually quite enjoyed it.  So please don’t be put off by the time it took me to read it.  It’s not the book’s fault.

This book was actually pretty good.  It was originally written in French, so what I read was a translation, and perhaps it was because of that, but the language used was very lovely.  It allowed for description without becoming boring.  It was actually a very simple story, of three very unlikely characters who impact each others lives greatly.

The main character in the book is a woman named Renee.  She is the concierge of a prestigious apartment building in Paris.  She is quite an interesting person actually.  She is plain in appearance,  and seemingly kind of dumb I guess.  She harbours a secret though: she is secretly in love with books and movies, and is fairly intelligent.  Not that she would ever let this on to anyone else.  She tries like crazy to just keep up the image of the “simple, grumpy old concierge.”  Her character actually has quite a bit of depth.

Then there’s Paloma, a 12 year old genius living in this building who is the same as Renee in that she is constantly trying to hide her brilliance from the world.  She looks on most of her family and the rest of the world with disdain, and has quite a bleak outlook on life and where it’s headed, especially at the beginning of the book.  She sees so much more than anyone gives her credit for.  She seems to be looked at as one of the least important members of the family, though it is written from her point of view, so it is possible that situation is biased slightly.

Enter Ozu.  A Japanese man who bought one of the vacated apartments.  He becomes quite the sensation in the building and the object of everyone’s curiosity.  He is an intelligent and insightful man who sees beyond the masks that both Renee and Paloma wear.  He brings the two unlikely characters together and he himself into the circle in a way that is endearing.  I liked this character very much.

Overall, a good book.  The narrative switches back and forth between Renee and Paloma, which in some books can be irritating, but in this one not so much so.  The font is different and bolder during Paloma’s parts, and hers are shorter, more tidbits throughout Renee’s story.  I found it easy to read in that respect.

Try this one if you’re looking for something to read, though I do recommend that you pick it up when you have larger chunks of time to devote to reading.  I liked it.  The ending was unexpected, and emotional, I didn’t see it coming.  Another thing that I like when I’m reading.

What’s so bad about Religion? Yeah…I’m going there.

Pope Francis

Pope Francis

Today, 115 Cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church elected this man to be our next pope.  Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina.  The first pope of the modern era that is not European.  The first ever Latin American pope.  The first pope to take his name after one of the most beloved figures in the Catholic Church – St. Francis of Assisi.

I’m not really up on my Cardinals, so I didn’t know much about this man before he stepped out onto the balcony to bless the people in St. Peter’s square.  The more I learn about him, the more I think I like him.  He seems to me like he is a humble man, not much one for luxury, seeming to prefer a more simple life.  We will see where his leadership takes us, and he is in my prayers and in the prayers of many I’m sure as he takes the leadership role of the Church in a time where there are many uncertainties, and a Church that seems divided.  This man has his work ahead of him, and I hope his papacy is one that each and every Catholic can be proud of.

I had been watching the “chimney cam” along with billions across the globe, waiting for the white smoke to signify the new pope.  I was quite excited to see the white smoke come out of the chimney.  When Pope Benedict the XVI was elected back in 2005, social media wasn’t as prevalent as it is in today’s society.  It certainly wasn’t in 1978 when Pope John Paul II began his papacy.  Today, we weren’t just watching on TV, or listening to the radio.  We were watching live feeds streaming over the internet.  Checking the “conclave” app on our iPhones.  Watching our Twitter streams and Facebook news feeds.  The moment the white smoke started, we were literally getting notifications.  Social media is wonderful as it keeps us up to date on what’s going on, and allows us to share our thoughts and feelings with our family, friends and peers.

It’s this last part that has me troubled.  Along with the “shouts of joy” that I read celebrating the vote, there were some vile and ignorant, downright rude comments as well.

I believe in freedom of speech.  I believe that everyone has a right to their opinion.  However expressing your opinion in a way that resorts to name calling and hurting other people is inappropriate and rude.  I know I don’t have to read your posts.  I know that if I don’t like what you have to say, I can simply keep scrolling, or if it offends me enough, I can unfriend you.  But why should I have to?

This is a blog about food.  It’s also a blog about books.  It’s a place where I post funny videos, pictures, and talk about things that are important to me.  This is not a political blog, or a religious one.  But if I’m to talk about things that are important to me, I’m going to go there.

I am a cradle Catholic.  Born, baptized as an infant, and raised.  I attended a Catholic elementary and high school, and for the most part, have attended church every Sunday for most of my life.  I have had times where I haven’t been as good about that as others, but I always end up coming back.  My faith has helped me through a lot of very difficult times throughout my life and I am thankful for it.

I believe in God.  I believe in the teachings of my church.  I think that in a lot of ways, my church has got things right.  I think abortion is wrong.  I believe in life from conception to natural death. (I don’t want to debate this here, I know that there are many people who disagree, and this isn’t about that.)  I also believe that there are a lot of things that are consistent with today’s society that the Catholic Church has not modified their stance on.  Gay marriage, contraception, pre-marital sex, are examples of these.  I am a very tolerant person.  I believe we are all equal.  I have a hard time believing that God is going to condemn a good person to burn in hell for simply loving someone else – just because they are the same gender.  But that is my opinion, and again, I’m not going to debate all these finer points with anyone.  That’s not the point of this post, and I won’t let anyone make it the point.

My problem is people that have such a problem with God, or with Catholics in general, Jewish people in general, Muslims in general.  I believe in the teachings of the Catholic faith.  This does not mean that I think Jewish people are idiots, or that Muslims and Buddhists are morons.  Or that Atheists and Agnostics are ridiculous.  Part of being a human being is to accept others, their faiths, and try to learn from them, no matter their beliefs.  Many people say that God and religions start wars.  I don’t believe this to be true.  God does not start war.  People start wars.  People with misconstrued visions of God, and of religion, that can use their faith as an excuse to wage war on others.  People blame God for many things, but it is not God, but the stupidity of man that has gotten us into the situation we are in.

There are a lot of horrible things that have happened throughout the years surrounding different religions.  People who have died and killed many in the name of God.  Scandals of many kinds in the church.  Horrible child abuse scandals.  These are bad, no doubt about it.  There aren’t words to describe how bad.  I believe that these men should be tried by the law, as many of them are nowadays, and the fact that they wear a collar should not protect them from this.  What we need to realize is that the Church, as are all religions, are run by humans.  Simply humans.  Not all priests molest little boys.  In fact, I think it’s safe to say that the majority of them don’t.  One priest, one person who abuses is too much.  But to quote a friend, don’t paint everyone with the same brush.  I have met some priests that are wonderful, God fearing, loving, intelligent men.  I find it hard to believe that any man has entered the priesthood for any reason other than they were called by God and had answered that call.

We need to stop looking at each other and judging each other based on the faith that we practice and start looking at each other as humans, and respecting each others beliefs.   If everyone just stopped for 10 seconds, and thought about that, who knows, maybe there would be fewer wars.  I know for sure that there would be fewer people pissed off in social media.

Hatred feeds hatred.  Love feeds love.

Peace.