As a member of our local library book club, I have had the pleasure of reading many excellent books that I otherwise wouldn’t have selected. I won’t write a bad review—if I don’t like a book, I simply stop reading it. When I started reading The Elegance of the Hedgehog, my first reaction was that it really wasn’t my kind of reading. I’ll just try another chapter, I thought. And then I was hooked.
The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery is an incredible novel. Translated from French, the book’s two main protagonists couldn’t be more different. Paloma, a privileged precocious twelve-year-old is disgusted with life and intends to end hers on her thirteenth birthday. Paloma has only one friend, but has a mind far advanced of her age. She is a deep thinker who can see through facades, including those of her own family. Although an excellent student, she hides her extraordinary intelligence.
Renee Michel, a concierge at an elegant Paris hotel, describes herself as a short, ugly, plump widow. The hotel, which consists of five posh apartments, is what we might call a condominium with Madam Michel the building manager. She is treated as she expects to be treated, as someone to take care of mundane chores, freeing up the rich and important people to go about their busy lives. What the tenants don’t know is that their concierge is a connoisseur of fine art, philosophy, music, and Japanese culture.
When a new tenant arrives, a wealthy Japanese man named Kakuro Ozo, amazing things begin to happen to Madame Michel and Paloma’s worlds, each in different ways.
The Elegance of the Hedgehog is an unusual book, an ingenious work of fiction. The story line is intriguing, and shows not only the author’s masterful writing skills, but her intelligence in a wide variety of subjects.
To learn more about this French novelist and professor of philosophy, visit http://murielbarbery.com/