The Elegance of the Hedgehog

( 365 )

Overview

An enchanting New York Times and international bestseller and award-winner about life, art, literature, philosophy, culture, class, privilege, and power, seen through the eyes of a 54-year old French concierge and a precocious but troubled 12-year-old girl.

Renée Michel is the 54-year-old concierge of a luxury Paris apartment building. Her exterior (“short, ugly, and plump”) and demeanor (“poor, discreet, and insignificant”) belie her keen, questing mind and profound erudition. ...

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Overview

An enchanting New York Times and international bestseller and award-winner about life, art, literature, philosophy, culture, class, privilege, and power, seen through the eyes of a 54-year old French concierge and a precocious but troubled 12-year-old girl.

Renée Michel is the 54-year-old concierge of a luxury Paris apartment building. Her exterior (“short, ugly, and plump”) and demeanor (“poor, discreet, and insignificant”) belie her keen, questing mind and profound erudition. Paloma Josse is a 12-year-old genius who behaves as everyone expects her to behave: a mediocre pre-teen high on adolescent subculture, a good but not outstanding student, an obedient if obstinate daughter. She plans to kill herself on the sixteenth of June, her thirteenth birthday.

Both Renée and Paloma hide their true talents and finest qualities from the bourgeois families around them, until a wealthy Japanese gentleman named Ozu moves into building. Only he sees through them, perceiving the secret that haunts Renée, winning Paloma's trust, and helping the two discover their kindred souls. Moving, funny, tender, and triumphant, Barbery's novel exalts the quiet victories of the inconspicuous among us.

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Editorial Reviews

Caryn James
The Elegance of the Hedgehog, a best seller in France and several other countries, belongs to a distinct subgenre: the accessible book that flatters readers with its intellectual veneer…Renee's story is addressed to no one (that is, to us), while Paloma's takes the form of a notebook crammed with what she labels "profound thoughts." Both create eloquent little essays on time, beauty and the meaning of life…Even when the novel is most essayistic, the narrators' kinetic minds and engaging voices (in Alison Anderson's fluent translation) propel us ahead.
—The New York Times
Michael Dirda
[Renee Michel and Paloma Josse] provide the double narrative of The Elegance of the Hedgehog, and you will—this is going to sound corny—fall in love with both. In Europe, where Muriel Barbery's book became a huge bestseller in 2007, it has inspired the kind of affection and enthusiasm American readers bestow on the works of Alexander McCall Smith. Still, this is a very French novel: tender and satirical in its overall tone, yet most absorbing because of its reflections on the nature of beauty and art, the meaning of life and death. Out of context, Madame Michel's pensees may occasionally sound pretentious, just as Paloma might sometimes pass for a Gallic (and female) version of Holden Caulfield. But, for the most part, Barbery makes us believe in these two unbelievable characters.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
This audio version of the surprise French bestseller hits the mark as both performance and story. The leisurely pace of the novel, which explores the upstairs-downstairs goings-on of a posh Parisian apartment building, lends itself well to audio, and those who might have been tempted to skip through the novel's more laborious philosophical passages (the author is a professor of philosophy) will savor these ruminations when read aloud. Tony Award–winning actress Barbara Rosenblat positively embodies the concierge, Renée Michel, who deliberately hides her radiant intelligence from the upper-crust residents of 7 rue de Grenelle, and the performance of Cassandra Morris as the precocious girl who recognizes Renée as a kindred spirit is nothing short of a revelation. Morris's voice, inflection and timbre all conspire to make the performance entirely believable. A Europa paperback. (June)
La Repubblica
The formula that made more than half a million readers in France fall in love with this book has, among other ingredients: intelligent humor, fine sentiments, an excellent literary and philosophical backdrop, good taste, sophistication and substance.
Marie Claire (France)
Enthusiastically recommended for anyone who loves books that grow quietly and then blossom suddenly.
Elle (Italy)
An exquisite book in the form of a philosophical fable that has enchanted hundreds of thousands of readers.
Le Monde
Nobody ever imagined that this tender, funny book with a philosophical vein would have enjoyed such incredible success. For some, it is part Sophie's World by Jostein Gaarder, part Monsieur Malaussene by Daniel Pennac. While for others it resembles a written version of the film Amelie. Either way, readers are responding in vast numbers.
Library Journal

Published in France in 2006, this work quickly captured the European imagination, and the advance praise is sufficiently glowing to guarantee attention in the English-speaking world. The novel itself is more problematic. Philosophy professor Barbery-the author of one previous novel, Une gourmandise-has fashioned a slow and sentimental fable out of her own personal interests-art, philosophy, and Japanese culture-about a widow who serves as caretaker of a Parisian apartment building and a troubled girl living in the building. Barbery attempts to make the story appear more cutting-edge by introducing dizzying changes in typography, but the effect seems precious from the outset and quickly grow tiresome. Recommended for public libraries where literature in translation is in demand and for academic libraries to complement their French collections.
—Sam Popowich

Kirkus Reviews
A companion to the Orange Prize nominee Old Filth (2006). When Gardam first introduced Sir Edward Feathers, his wife Betty was already dead. This book tells her story, and it's magnificent. Elisabeth Macintosh is a brave, resourceful and unconventional young woman. Like Eddie, she was born in Asia in the early 20th century, and she spent World War II in a Japanese internment camp. Both Betty and Eddie are orphans when they meet in Hong Kong, and Eddie's proposal is compelled by a singular mix of love, need and survival instinct. Gardam's characters-even those who appear for a few lines-are all fully formed and intriguing, and she has an impeccable way with nuance and detail. But her subject is not just a single couple: It is also their way of life. Betty and Eddie are the last representatives of a crumbling empire. Even when they retire to a Wiltshire village, they are "lifetime expats." They are never at home in England, but they embody an idea of Englishness that is rapidly disappearing. They have lived through war, and they know how to endure. They have been bred to eschew selfishness and self-pity, but Gardam-without making her characters maudlin or pathetic-gives voice to the feelings they would never express aloud. As they walk together through a Hong Kong slum, Betty's friend-another expat and a missionary-tells her, "You need a cause . . . We must forget ourselves, Bets. Our Englishness." Betty's response is to think, "Amy had not been in the Camps." With this silent sentence, Gardam speaks volumes about her heroine, and she offers a quiet elegy for an entire generation. Funny, intelligent and immensely moving.
Sarasota Herald-Tribune
“Lo and behold, yet another work that is more captivating . . . when read aloud than read off the page.”
Sarasota Herald-Tribune
The Washington Post
“Gently satirical, exceptionally winning and inevitably bittersweet.”
The Washington Post
New York Times Book Review
“Both [characters] create eloquent little essays on time, beauty and the meaning of life, Renée with erudition and Paloma with adolescent brio.”
New York Times Book Review
Time magazine
“The novel wins over its fans with a life-affirming message, a generous portion of heart and Barbery’s frequently wicked sense of humor.”
Time
BookPage
“. . . a nuanced audio presentation that perfectly captures the unique eloquence, mordant wit and charm of its protagonists.”
BookPage
Providence Journal
“The invaluable Rosenblat, winner of 40 Golden Earphone Awards for superior recordings, invests Renée’s part of the story with the warmth and élan that always characterizes Rosenblat’s work. And Morris, a twenty-something actress who is able to sound uncannily like a 12-year-old, makes Paloma precocious but not bratty, a worthy partner in her half of the book.”
Providence Journal
The Barnes & Noble Review
Hedgehogs aren't native to America, but you don't have to be French to sniff out at least some of the contradictions in the title of Muriel Barbery's European bestseller. Her novel both depicts and hopes to appeal to the connoisseur of humanity who can appreciate exquisite qualities unacknowledged by others. One of her two Parisian diarist heroines is a concierge, the other a suicidal adolescent. They sound conventional, but that's precisely the point: they both work very hard to achieve stereotypicality. As the frumpy concierge Renée says, "I correspond so very well to what social prejudice has collectively construed to be a typical French concierge that I am one of the multiple cogs that make the great universal illusion turn, the illusion according to which life has a meaning that can be easily deciphered." From her position as a teenager, Paloma casts a jaundiced eye: "In our world...you must constantly rebuild your identity as an adult,...it is wobbly and ephemeral, so fragile, cloaking despair and, when you're alone in front of the mirror, it tells you the lies you need to believe."

Renée appears to be a prickly, homely hedgehog, but that appearance is a deliberately crafted fa?ade masking her inner elegance of taste and sensibility. Her life's work has been to appear the perfect cat-owning, cabbage-stewing, television-blaring concierge so that she can really spend her time reading philosophy, cooking delicious morsels, critiquing grammatical solecisms, and watching the old Japanese movies of Yasujiro Ozu. Rather charmingly, she also likes Blade Runner. Every now and then in her interchanges with the tenants her mask slips -- she refers, say, to a relatively obscure work by Marx and Engels -- but, as she caustically notes, the privileged tenants' conditioning conspires to conceal her: "I find this a fascinating phenomenon: the ability we have to manipulate ourselves so that the foundation of our beliefs is never shaken." Her waspishness can take on the overtones of Diogenes, revealing dishonesty and inauthenticity in unexpected corners:

Colombe Josse is...a sort of tall blond leek who dresses like a penniless Bohemian. If there is one thing I despise, it's the perverse affectation of rich people who go around dressing as if they were poor.... Not only is it ugly, it is also insulting: nothing is more despicable than a rich man's scorn for a poor man's longing.

As the novel opens, Paloma, because of her disgust with the world around her, has decided to kill herself on her 13th birthday. Mme. Renée isn't exactly happy in her life, but she has become comfortable with her private arrangements.

In their diaries, both Renée and Paloma specialize in recognizing naked emperors -- about philosophy: "Phenomenology is a fraud"; about a food critic: " To write entire pages of dazzling prose about a tomato...without ever seeing or holding the tomato is a troubling display of virtuosity." As the novel pingpongs back and forth between their diaries, there's a reader's pleasure in seeing -- being privileged to see -- the quirky tastes and judgments Renée and Paloma share. These are among the most fascinating moments of the book, allowing us to play the discerning detective, letting us exercise our qualities of connoisseurship. The scene -- sidelong and subtle -- in which the two finally find each other is, to my taste, the most moving in the book.

We are not the only ones to appreciate these tangy yet supersensitive souls. Things begin to change when one tenant dies and a new tenant moves in: a single Japanese man, a distant relative of the director Ozu. He turns out to be another exquisitely perceptive connoisseur. Yes, our Cinderellas will get to go to the ball. Whatever rags of cynicism and fear Renée and Paloma share will fall away; they become clothed in shiny hopefulness. "Don't worry, Renée," concludes Paloma, "from now on, for you, I'll be searching for those moments of always within never."

Barbery has written an inspiring and heartwarming tale -- unless, that is, you happen to practice the virtues of caustic clearsightedness that Mme. Renée and Paloma preach. Then you might notice that their targets are too easy. After all, no one's surprised to find skinny, shallow, and sexually squeamish matrons in the 7th Arrondissement. I might have been more impressed with Paloma and Renée's discernment if they'd found a spark of humanity on the upper floors of 7, rue de Grenelle. Instead, Barbery has stacked the deck. All the characters who are meant to be authentic -- in an existential sense, of course -- are either poor or oddities among the haute bourgeoisie. It is obviously impossible to be self-aware if you have money -- unless you happen to be Japanese. You might also notice the book is, under the prickles of its cultural sophistication, deeply sentimental. Plotlines and backstories, including an absurdity straight from a Victorian melodrama, pop up just in time to tug a heartstring and prompt a tear.

I have to admit it's flattering to be thought the sort of reader who has an eye for social satire, a yen for art, culture, and philosophical ideas, and a warm heart, to boot. For the first two-thirds of this novel, I was rooting for Mme. Renée, our elegant hedgehog. In fact, when I first began reading this book, I thought Barbery might be alluding to the famous book on Tolstoy by the philosopher Isaiah Berlin, who was himself quoting the Greek poet Archilochus (Barbery's name-dropping thing is easy once you try): "The fox knows many things but the hedgehog knows one big thing." So I'd like to persuade myself that one of Barbery's satirical targets was precisely the kind of sentimentality that takes over the last third of her book and that there's one big profound message here. Alas, I cannot make my thinking as wishful as that. Now -- based on the end of the novel, which I cannot possibly under any circumstances reveal -- I'm reminded that a leading cause of hedgehog deaths in Europe is being squished in the middle of the road. --Alexandra Mullen

Alexandra Mullen left a life as an academic in Victorian literature to return to her roots as a general reader. She now writes for The Hudson Review (where she is also an Advisory Editor), The New Criterion, and The Wall Street Journal.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781933372600
  • Publisher: Europa Editions, Incorporated
  • Publication date: 9/2/2008
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 336
  • Sales rank: 44,788
  • Product dimensions: 5.38 (w) x 8.66 (h) x 0.97 (d)

Meet the Author

MURIEL BARBERY is a French novelist and professor of philosophy. Her second novel L'Élégance du hérisson (translated into English as The Elegance of the Hedgehog) topped the French best-seller lists for 30 consecutive weeks and is an international bestseller.

CASSANDRA MORRIS has done voiceover work for Disney, appeared on the Late Show with David Letterman, and can be seen in the future film Double Parked.

Multiple Audie® Award winner Barbara Rosenblat has been named a "Voice of the Twentieth Century" by AudioFile magazine. The New York Times writes,"Watch Ms. Rosenblat work...and you get the sense that even an Oscar winner might not be able to pull this off." She created the role of "Mrs. Medlock" in the Tony® Award-winning Broadway musical The Secret Garden.

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Table of Contents

Hedgehogs aren't native to America, but you don't have to be French to sniff out at least some of the contradictions in the title of Muriel Barbery's European bestseller. Her novel both depicts and hopes to appeal to the connoisseur of humanity who can appreciate exquisite qualities unacknowledged by others. One of her two Parisian diarist heroines is a concierge, the other a suicidal adolescent. They sound conventional, but that's precisely the point: they both work very hard to achieve stereotypicality. As the frumpy concierge Renée says, "I correspond so very well to what social prejudice has collectively construed to be a typical French concierge that I am one of the multiple cogs that make the great universal illusion turn, the illusion according to which life has a meaning that can be easily deciphered." From her position as a teenager, Paloma casts a jaundiced eye: "In our world...you must constantly rebuild your identity as an adult,...it is wobbly and ephemeral, so fragile, cloaking despair and, when you're alone in front of the mirror, it tells you the lies you need to believe."

Renée appears to be a prickly, homely hedgehog, but that appearance is a deliberately crafted façade masking her inner elegance of taste and sensibility. Her life's work has been to appear the perfect cat-owning, cabbage-stewing, television-blaring concierge so that she can really spend her time reading philosophy, cooking delicious morsels, critiquing grammatical solecisms, and watching the old Japanese movies of Yasujiro Ozu. Rather charmingly, she also likes Blade Runner. Every now and then in her interchanges with the tenants her mask slips -- she refers, say, to a relatively obscure work by Marx and Engels -- but, as she caustically notes, the privileged tenants' conditioning conspires to conceal her: "I find this a fascinating phenomenon: the ability we have to manipulate ourselves so that the foundation of our beliefs is never shaken." Her waspishness can take on the overtones of Diogenes, revealing dishonesty and inauthenticity in unexpected corners:

Colombe Josse is...a sort of tall blond leek who dresses like a penniless Bohemian. If there is one thing I despise, it's the perverse affectation of rich people who go around dressing as if they were poor.... Not only is it ugly, it is also insulting: nothing is more despicable than a rich man's scorn for a poor man's longing.


As the novel opens, Paloma, because of her disgust with the world around her, has decided to kill herself on her 13th birthday. Mme. Renée isn't exactly happy in her life, but she has become comfortable with her private arrangements.

In their diaries, both Renée and Paloma specialize in recognizing naked emperors -- about philosophy: "Phenomenology is a fraud"; about a food critic: " To write entire pages of dazzling prose about a tomato...without ever seeing or holding the tomato is a troubling display of virtuosity." As the novel pingpongs back and forth between their diaries, there's a reader's pleasure in seeing -- being privileged to see -- the quirky tastes and judgments Renée and Paloma share. These are among the most fascinating moments of the book, allowing us to play the discerning detective, letting us exercise our qualities of connoisseurship. The scene -- sidelong and subtle -- in which the two finally find each other is, to my taste, the most moving in the book.

We are not the only ones to appreciate these tangy yet supersensitive souls. Things begin to change when one tenant dies and a new tenant moves in: a single Japanese man, a distant relative of the director Ozu. He turns out to be another exquisitely perceptive connoisseur. Yes, our Cinderellas will get to go to the ball. Whatever rags of cynicism and fear Renée and Paloma share will fall away; they become clothed in shiny hopefulness. "Don't worry, Renée," concludes Paloma, "from now on, for you, I'll be searching for those moments of always within never."

Barbery has written an inspiring and heartwarming tale -- unless, that is, you happen to practice the virtues of caustic clearsightedness that Mme. Renée and Paloma preach. Then you might notice that their targets are too easy. After all, no one's surprised to find skinny, shallow, and sexually squeamish matrons in the 7th Arrondissement. I might have been more impressed with Paloma and Renée's discernment if they'd found a spark of humanity on the upper floors of 7, rue de Grenelle. Instead, Barbery has stacked the deck. All the characters who are meant to be authentic -- in an existential sense, of course -- are either poor or oddities among the haute bourgeoisie. It is obviously impossible to be self-aware if you have money -- unless you happen to be Japanese. You might also notice the book is, under the prickles of its cultural sophistication, deeply sentimental. Plotlines and backstories, including an absurdity straight from a Victorian melodrama, pop up just in time to tug a heartstring and prompt a tear.

I have to admit it's flattering to be thought the sort of reader who has an eye for social satire, a yen for art, culture, and philosophical ideas, and a warm heart, to boot. For the first two-thirds of this novel, I was rooting for Mme. Renée, our elegant hedgehog. In fact, when I first began reading this book, I thought Barbery might be alluding to the famous book on Tolstoy by the philosopher Isaiah Berlin, who was himself quoting the Greek poet Archilochus (Barbery's name-dropping thing is easy once you try): "The fox knows many things but the hedgehog knows one big thing." So I'd like to persuade myself that one of Barbery's satirical targets was precisely the kind of sentimentality that takes over the last third of her book and that there's one big profound message here. Alas, I cannot make my thinking as wishful as that. Now -- based on the end of the novel, which I cannot possibly under any circumstances reveal -- I'm reminded that a leading cause of hedgehog deaths in Europe is being squished in the middle of the road. --Alexandra Mullen

Alexandra Mullen left a life as an academic in Victorian literature to return to her roots as a general reader. She now writes for The Hudson Review (where she is also an Advisory Editor), The New Criterion, and The Wall Street Journal.

Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 365 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(141)

4 Star

(101)

3 Star

(56)

2 Star

(36)

1 Star

(31)

Your Rating:

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 367 Customer Reviews
  • Posted June 13, 2010

    Wonderful! One of the most beautiful books I've ever read.

    I was weary of "Hedgehog" when my friends came to me in class on the day we picked what we would read for our book groups. We were all avid readers and didn't want to have to deal with students that would just use sparknotes in order to pass. This book looked interesting enough, and also had the sort of difficultly that would scare off anybody we wanted to avoid.

    I am only fifteen, and even though I like to read, I don't consider myself to be very intelligent. That being said, the book was very daunting at first. The language was complicated, and I always had a dictionary by my side and a pen in my hand so I could write in definitions. Reading was occasionally tedious. My group decided to create a blog with a vocabulary list, predictions, and chapter summaries. There were times where we poured ourselves over only a couple of pages until we finally found meaning. It was a bit like one large riddle, and we were determined to find meaning. After a while, the book either became a bit easier to read or we became accustomed to the language. It went from taking me an hour to read ten pages to zipping right through it.

    Even though it was an effort to complete, every single one of us agreed that it was one of the best books we've ever read. This book will make you laugh, cry, contemplate, and take notice of things you may have never seen before.

    30 out of 31 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted February 10, 2009

    A most engaging read.

    This was just a delightful book. The two main characters are totally unique and quirky and become unlikely friends. There are many good movie and book references in it, which I always love, and there are some interweaving plots which bring a hodge-podge of personalities together. It is about who is really your family. And it treats the issue of how silly the rigid class boundaries are, and how they can keep you from discovering great treasures in one another.

    28 out of 29 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 6, 2009

    How many weeks on the best sellers list?

    I hated this book. Too much psycho babble and not enough story. I can't be the only person to feel this way!

    15 out of 37 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted April 20, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    The beauty and artistry of the hedgehog....

    This book has been added to my list of all time favorite books. I was drawn to it initially by the title, without having read any reviews nor heard from anyone who had read it. The author quickly takes the reader to the luxurious apartment in Paris where the characters share their thoughts and minds. The combination of the intellectual, emotional and spiritual is what makes this story so powerful. Beneath the daily musings of the characters and their observations of their world lies the framework of our existence; the importance of beauty and art; "the moments of always within never." This book made me laugh, cry, and reach for my dictionary. It is a book that I will read again from cover to cover but right now, I find myself opening it to any random page and reveling in the powerful and beautiful writing. The combination of the descriptions of daily life among the wealthy, the discourse on such lifestyles and the "profound thoughts" shared by the 12 year old child offer an entertaining and thoughtful romp that will resonant with anyone who has questioned what its all about. And most importantly, remind us to look beyond the surface. ( and...Bravo to the translator!)

    8 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 8, 2010

    Thought provoking book

    A good book about families who live in a small apartment building in Paris and the seemingly ordinary woman who is the building's caretaker. There is little interaction and "neighborliness" among the residents -- everyone lives his or her own life and doesn't seem very concerned about other people or even their own family members. The story is told through the perspectives of a smart 12 year old girl who feels she has nothing to live for and the middle-aged building concierge who is really intellectually and spiritually superior to the residents of the building who consider her to be practically invisible. Everything begins to change when a long-term resident dies and his apartment is sold to a wise Japanese man who befriends the concierge and the girl.

    The book is a little difficult to read initially -- you might need a dictionary! But, after sticking with it a bit, the book makes you think about what the people around you might really be thinking and feeling.

    An unexpected ending.

    7 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted May 15, 2010

    The main character, the concierge vacillates between being a hedgehog and a fox and one wonders as one reads, what is she? Or, on the other hand, is Renee the hedgehog and Paloma the fox?

    When I closed this little book, all I could do was sit back in wonder. I heard the word "WOW" slip from my lips. This book makes you think.
    Once you get over the unusual use of rarely used and very cerebral vocabulary words, which may confound you, you are drawn into a beautifully written tale about two main characters, separated by generations and background, whose lives parallel each other. Both are philosophers of sorts, both searching for the meaning of life in a world in which they feel like misfits, in which they have an alternate secret life in order to survive. It reads like a comictragedy.
    The contrast between the 57 year old concierge Renee, and Paloma, the not quite teenager, is stark. Yet, they are so similar! They are both hiding from the world for different reasons which are really the same! They are afraid to show the world who they really are or what they really know for fear that discovery will be their very downfall. One lives near poverty level and the other in the lap of luxury. Both learn about the meaning of life, accidentally and quite innocently, through each other.
    Each of the characters is poignant and well defined. I highly recommend this book.

    6 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 4, 2009

    "The Elegance of the Hedgehog" is a great read with a dose of good philosophy.

    "The Elegance of the Hedgehog," may be a little puzzling for readers (as it was for me) because it requires an initial effort to absorb the author's plan to present her story. But once you get going, it's wonderful. I had to remind myself that the author, the characters, and the story depict life in France, which is quite different from life in America. And I had to get used to the alternating chapter style, which actually tells two stories, one of Renee, the concierge of a residential hotel, the other of Paloma, a 12-year-old girl who is super smart and disenchanted with life. Only midway through the novel do the stories become entwined. Paloma and Renee become fast companions and friends of each other, and in doing so find a real reason for living.

    "Hedgehog" reminded me of the movie "Up." They both remind adults to see and meet the needs of others. In so doing, human beings find their reason for being.

    6 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted May 14, 2010

    Just Keep Reading (or Listening)

    Whenever I'm not sure I have the attention span to take on a possibly challenging book, I order the audio version and listen in the car. _The Elegance of the Hedgehog_ is particularly good in audio because there's something about hearing a little girl's voice as she waxes philosophical that is fascinating.

    In the beginning I was listening to the ideas and not having any real attachment to the characters. I was more interested in Paloma's sections just because of her voice, I think. My husband and my daughter could jump in the car at any point and listen to the story and get into it.

    Around the time Monsieur Ozu arrived in the building I was more interested in Renee's story, and I would sit and listen in the driveway for a long time, not wanting to turn it off.

    I have to say I went into this book reluctantly-- my friend chose it for bookclub, and half of the group didn't get through it. I'm so glad I stuck it out (although I admit there were some places where I didn't listen as closely to the philosophical ideas as I might have) because the end was incredibly rewarding.

    Some of the characters in _Hedgehog_ are big fans of _Anna Karenina_, so I'm reading that now, but I think I'm going to have to get the audio version of that one as well!

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 26, 2010

    Pass this one by ....

    I rarely dislike books, but this ones wins hands down. Not just my opinion, this is the opinion of our entire book club. These are characters I couldn't care about and I felt it was a boring, pretentious diatribe steeped in reverse snobbery. Or perhaps I'm not educated enough, smart enough, or pretentious enough to get it. It was an absolute struggle to read. Hours of my life I'll never get back. No need to say more.

    5 out of 17 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 28, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    A Instant Favorite -- Full of Insight and Beauty

    it's very rare that a book changes a person. i remember specific books that have changed my life. changed the way i think, the way i view the world, the way i view books. madame bovary was the first book that did that for me. this book is now added to that list.

    i loved this book.

    i loved the individual voices of both renee and paloma...and how each of them viewed the world. the insight that we get from each of these incredible intelligent, but lost and hiding women, was so telling.

    each of their respective stories showed us secrets that the two shared with no one else...when their stories converged...i was ecstatic. i knew that their meeting would be monumental, even though it would be quiet.

    i especially found renee to be a wonderfully beautiful character...funny because she speaks of herself as course and ugly. her insights and philosophies were incredibly enriching. her past, present and, sigh, future, were of great concern to me. i wanted her to become more. i wanted her to share herself with mr. ozu. i was, and still am, quite fond of her.

    after reading this book...i feel changed. i feel the need to reflect on my cup of tea...i need to reflect on the true 'movement' of the world....i need to find my camellia on the moss.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 15, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    The Elegance of the Hedgehog

    I want to befriend Renee Michel! Why? Because I like the grumpy concierge who believes that ultimate joy lies in seeing a camellia on moss. Because important thoughts are conveyed by a precocious 12-year old girl who convinces me that seeking out people and looking beyond their outward masks is a good reason to hang around. That these two females should eventually gain insight into each other's hidden lives through a deliciously foreign yet graciously human spirit, is the highlight of the novel. While one is born into the soft pillows of luxury, the other comes from the tough treadmill of a Parisian bandelieu. The translator leaves the essence of bandelieu and many other French expressions to the reader, which sometimes can become a bit irritating. While I have retained some knowledge of the French language from my school days, I sense that the ever-changing meaning of terms and the sensitivities of cultural diversity give the translator a delicate picture to paint, a picture which sometimes only reveals faint pencil marks where a particular color might have been needed. Foreign terms advertise their built-in importance, but aren't we supposed to look, with a critical eye, at the extravagances and affectations of the rich and well educated? Aren't we guided toward praise for the lowly concierge's lack of such drapings? There is less significance in the word Soumaintrain than in the term mise on abyme, yet both, the name of a particular cheese and the phenomenon of a repetitive image, are the author's way of showing us how well educated the concierge is. No limburger for this lady of the loge. Are we to deduce that the autodidact is less likely to suffer from arrogance than the designer intellectual? And therefore Mme. Michel is allowed a slice of this traditionally ripened cheese, which, I am informed by the online French Cheese club, dates back to the 17th century and "is a cheese with lactic curds, with a slow curding and delicate hooping." (Even my spell checker raises an eye brow and wants to downgrade this delicate hooping into delicate hoping.) Why does Renee Michel hide her knowledge? Her achievement goes beyond the expectations of her upbringing. Why does it not propel her into competition and further advances? Is it because she does not possess outer beauty? Or because she lacks inner confidence? Is she a failure, because she is a concierge in the world of the rich? Is she a winner among the losers from the fringe? While she does bear the lower classes' burden of labor she secretly enjoys the privileges of education and seems to earn enough money to tease her taste buds with gourmet morsels usually reserved for the rich. She is a voluntary hermit, yet she is never far from the busy lives of bourgeois intellectuals. For most of the novel she is the uninvolved The density of knowledge, covering page after page, sometimes seems contrived, but I joyfully fall into the trap of looking up Mr. Ozu's films as well as googling the word incunabulum and reading the synopses of several books that are mentioned. I wonder if a twelve year old, even a very mature twelve year old, would write a sentence like "his children don't have two pennies to rub together." I outright disagree with the author when she conveys her opinion about the lack of continuity in an open door. She calls it "provincial interference" while I look at the open door with the photographer's eye toward interesting spatial division, shadow and light, architectural

    4 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 25, 2010

    So beautiful....

    The beginning of this book is a little bit slow. I'm sure if that is a problem from the translation or if that is how Barbery meant for the beginning to be. Once you make it through the slow part however, this book is heart-breaking, beautiful, touching, and so poignant. The chapters could read as philosophical essays at times. I was so busy with my highlighter throughout the whole reading. I wouldn't recommend it to casual readers because it is indeed somewhat verbose, but for an avid reader with an extensive vocabulary it is beyond lovely. It quickly become one of my favorites and will be re-read again and again over the years I feel.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 23, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    Entertaining and clever....

    Paris...a building in a nice area, with nice people with all their prejudices however...We see them live, we like them, we laugh...<BR/>Fine analysis of the behavior, thinking of the inhabitants ...a modern sketch of nowadays people in Paris.<BR/><BR/>A huge success in France, this book has been read and enjoyed by very different readers...

    4 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 15, 2010

    Tough to start, but worth sticking with it

    It took a while to really like this book, but stay with it and you will! It is not a light, beach read and you will probably need a dictionary a few times to get the character's message. It is a thought provoking read from many dimensions. Read it for my book group and the comments were mixed. I definitely thought it was one of the top ten we have read in five years together but others felt it was way too tedious to get through the first 200 pages to make the rest worth while.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 15, 2010

    Elegance of the Hedgehog-maybe

    This book almost made my bookclub list. I thought it was a pompous read for the first half of the book because the author felt it necessary to pound the point of the two key characters, a French concierge and a teenage resident in the apartment complex, having high levels of hidden intelligence. This hidden intelligence and the "real" elegant nature of these two characters is found behind the hedgehog facade. Neither character are very likable in the first half of the book. A cleaning woman friend of the concierge actually helps keep the book afloat from the beginning. That said, midway I was hooked into the story primarily through the introduction of a new resident, who appears to be the only person who sees the hidden elegance. Even though the reader will know this character will bring out the best in these two forlorn people, it is done in a winning way. I softened and enjoyed the transformation. This is not an earth scattering story, but it is one that tries to look beyond personal appearances and general expectations. I found myself easily picturing Yolanda Moreau, the wonderful actress of the French movie "Sapphine", as the concierge and it worked. To be fair, this is a translated work I believe and so some of the author's nuances may have been lost in translation. Spoiler alert: I cried.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 6, 2009

    Not for Everyone

    That being said, I loved this book! It was read as a monthly selection for my book club. We read a diverse bunch of books and are a diverse group of women. Out of 8 women, 2 of us loved it and 2 of us hated it, everyone else was in the middle. The language was at times awkward but we think that may have been due to a poor translation. I loved Renee's thought on art and beauty. Also how she saw through the phony intellectuals. Some thought it totally unbelievable that she would hook up with the Japanese neighbor at the end and that the ending was a cop out on the part of the author, knowing that people would find their relationship unbelievable. Again, I loved it. If you are a Nora Roberts or James Patterson fan, you probably won't.

    3 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 18, 2010

    I wanted to like this book, but didn't...

    I tried really hard to like this book. But I didn't find the characters appealing, nor was the plot moving or fast-paced. In addition, the musings of the protagonist were highly philosophical -- and far beyond my interest level. I found that I was forcing myself to read the book so I stopped two-thirds of the way through without ever a second thought about what was happening to the characters.

    However I very much liked the premise of the book - a concierge at an apartment building becomes friends with a pre-teen child of one of the tenants. Both feel underappreciated and invisible. So this book gives a look inside their thoughts as they try to keep their intellectual superiority masked from the rest of the world.

    2 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 7, 2012

    Love this book

    This is my favorite. I would especially recommend it for teen girls.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 25, 2012

    Beautiful

    I read the original French writing of the book, but since there doesn't seem to be a nook version, I will review here. This book is beautifully written, with characters that you can connect with and relate to. Paloma is brilliant, and questions the importance of life and our reasons for existence. Bravo!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 7, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    Love the book. Lots of tongue in cheek humor that is subtle. I f

    Love the book. Lots of tongue in cheek humor that is subtle. I feel like the author and I have had the same reading list.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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