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.

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