The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery



Of camellias and life. 

About The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery: We are in the center 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 humor 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 timeworn disguise to the secret that haunts her. This is a moving, funny, triumphant novel that exalts the quiet victories of the inconspicuous among us.

My two cents

Once in a while a book comes along that is perfect in terms of timing, a book that becomes memorable because it made its way into your hands just when you are primed to receive its message. This was one of those rare books for me; I picked this up when I started my month-long blogging hiatus and without the distractions or pressures associated with blogging.

***

There's Renée, a middle-aged woman hiding behind the facade of uneducated concierge. Secretly, she is the epitome of the cultured woman, loves philosophy and soaks in art, music, and film.

Then there is Paloma, a well-to-do twelve-year-old hiding behind her manga and the mediocrity expected of her adolescence. But she is wiser beyond her years, is always on the lookout for the "perfect movement," and generally understands that adult life is tedious and meaningless.

The lives of thee rich tenants where Renée and Paloma live ho-hum along. Renée and Paloma would never have been found out until ...

One day, one of the tenants dies and a unit sits empty. Enter Ozu, a rich Japanese man who buys one the unit. There is change in the air: Ozu notices that the concierge quotes a line from, wait ... Anna Karenina? And with one simple comment to Paloma, Ozu finds a conspirator in this smart young girl.

This is a story of unlikely friendships, amongst people who aren't even supposed to be friends. This story casts aside all stations in life, outside appearances and gets to the heart of who people are with their secret pains and hopes in life. This is a story that will make you want to stop, look, listen. Then mull and contemplate. And simply appreciate.

There is beauty in the very simple. There is profound in the most common. People are not who they appear to be. But all this is fleeting, as is life.

Those who love a good philosophical discussion will wax poetic with its references to Husserl. Those who love art, film, and music will enjoy each of our characters' ponderings, musings, revelings. But at the heart of it all, is an enduring, tender tale of friendship.

As I said at the start of this "review," a perfect book can come at a perfect time.

Verdict: I would never have associated a hedgehog with elegance but this is a story that needs little explanation despite its odd title. It is a story that will stay with me because of its simple yet profound messages: to never judge a book by its cover, to take time to appreciate the beauty around us and the people who touch our lives. We all need to be reminded once in a while. Thank you, Ms. Barbery.

2 comments:

  1. Wow, it's so nice to read about someone's wonderful reading experience ^-^ I had heard of this book but didn't know what it was about before reading your review. It sounds like the sort of story I would also enjoy.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I have heard a lot about this book over the years, but I have never read it.

    EXCELLENT post....thanks so much for sharing.

    Stopping by from Carole's Books You Loved March Edition. I am in the list as #10.

    My book entry is below. A Memory of Violets is going to be a favorite for this year.

    Elizabeth
    Silver's Reviews
    My Book Entry

    ReplyDelete