I just finished reading “The Elegance of the Hedgehog” by Muriel Barbery!
The Elegance of the Hedgehog – Muriel Barbery
It’s taken me about 2 months to read because i found it a heavy read as it is full of quite intellectual musings. It has been translated from the French, and is indeed a very French book!
The blurb reads:
“Renee is the concierge of a grand Parisian apartment building, home to members of the great and the good. Over the years she has maintained her carefully constructed persona as someone reliable but totally uncultivated, in keeping, she feels, with society s expectations of what a concierge should be. But beneath this façade lies the real Renée: passionate about culture and the arts, and more knowledgeable in many ways than her employers with their outwardly successful but emotionally void lives. Down in her lodge, apart from weekly visits by her one friend Manuela, Renée lives resigned to her lonely lot with only her cat for company. Meanwhile, several floors up, twelve-year-old Paloma Josse is determined to avoid the pampered and vacuous future laid out for her, and decides to end her life on her thirteenth birthday. But unknown to them both, the sudden death of one of their privileged neighbours will dramatically alter their lives forever.”
The story is told from the perspectives of these two characters: Renée, and Paloma. Both are intelligent but trying to hide it from everyone else, and both are very imaginative and say quite thought-provoking things. Renée is older and wiser than Paloma and has her own secrets which start to come out as the novel progresses. Paloma is maybe a little naïve and too young to have experienced life, which makes me think she is wasting her time planning to kill herself.
The death of a resident of the apartment building brings about changes which neither character could have predicted, especially the arrival of an interesting gentleman who blows both their secrets out of the water and changes the relationship between the supposedly less refined and less privileged concierge and the supposedly more superior residents of the building.
It is interesting to see the other characters, with Paloma’s family and many of the other residents being a bit snobby and less likable, whereas people like Manuela are really lovely and enthusiastic. Many of the characters i don’t like any better by the end of the novel though.
I found this novel a little hard to get into, with the narrative switching constantly between Renée and Paloma and getting a little confusing as they have quite similar trains of thought, and also because the narrative is quite heavy, making it more the sort of novel you fight to get through rather than just reading it. You have to focus intently on the words as you read them. I found a lot of the subjects covered very interesting, and it is very cultured, more high brow culture.
I finally got into it when the new resident appears and suddenly the book comes to life as everything gets turned upside down. I just starting to like the characters more when a sudden twist at the end changes everything again and i was kind of annoyed that something beautiful would end so abruptly! But i won’t spoil the ending for you!
I give it 7/10 because it is original and intelligent, if a little on the heavy side. You have to really want to read this book, i fear that a lot of people might get bored quickly. It really is worth persevering with though: i’m glad i made myself finish reading it because the second half of the book is much better! If you like a bit of high-brow culture and literary fiction, i think you’ll like this.