Books – The Elegance of the Hedgehog

 Egels© &

As I mentioned in an earlier post, Elegant als een egel by Muriel Barbery was my favourite read of 2014.  I have to admit I bought this book mostly for its title, which I loved and, yes, found so elegant 🙂 .  I didn’t know anything about the book, nor of the author, and bought it really impulsive.  And was soooo glad I did.  The story got me immediately, it was thoughtfully and beautifully written, with great characters and much philosophical sidetreads and references to pop-culture (Barbery is a professor of philosophy).  I loved this smart book so much, in fact, that I read it again two days after I had finished it.

This is the plot (on Goodreads):We are in the centre 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 humour 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 time-worn 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 can only add one more thing here: if you have not read The Elegance of the Hedgehog yet, go out now and buy it.  Now!

Reviews in The Guardian, The New York Times, and The Washington Post.

An interview with the author on BookBrowse and 25 quotes from The Elegance of the Hedgehog on GoodReads.


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