The Elegance of the Hedgehog

The Elegance of the Hedgehog

Paperback - 2008
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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.
Publisher: New York :, Europa Editions,, [2008]
Copyright Date: ©2008
ISBN: 9781933372600
Branch Call Number: FIC BAR
Characteristics: 325 pages ; 21 cm
Additional Contributors: Anderson, Alison
Barbery, Muriel 1969-


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Jun 01, 2019

Pretentious drivel. Worse, pretentious drivel where the author creates situations where not one but two protagonists get to complain endlessly, repetitively, mind-numbingly-boringly about everything and everyone around them. I regret finishing this book (though admit to skimming large chunks) as this is time in my life I can never get back. I will never read anything by this author again.

Oct 31, 2018

Beautifully written lyrical book.
Exploring concepts of who we really are vs who we pretend to be and why.
I loved every moment until the final chapter which was heartbreaking.

Jun 11, 2018

The book is full of (philosophy, literature, pop culture... beauty, art, time, death...class, wealth vs poverty) lofty subjects, crammed into the heads of two pathological geniuses, their erudite narrations alternate, failed to entertain me, no matter what perspective I endeavor. A satire? A reference read for school project? A pseudo Proustian, nice try?
I found some pearls - adage, metaphor, axiom, but couldn't thread these into a necklace.
Since the book dedicates one chapter on Consonance (art), there may be consonance of a single thought and a simple abstract expression here and there, but the whole book lack consonance.
Aristocracy of the heart, what an incongruent claim Rene has. Does author want to ridicule the heroine with what she intend to disdain or elude to value?

Dec 05, 2017

Joy and sadness...glad I had a napkin handy to blot the tears. I suppose the sentimentality hit me harder than expected since I was listening to a mix of 80s music and reminiscing about my own life.

diesellibrarian Oct 16, 2017

I'm of two minds about this novel. On the one hand, it is well-constructed and features a set of quirky yet (mostly) likeable characters; however, the whole thing is overlaid with a heavy-handed philosophical discourse that appears to have no other purpose than to demonstrate the author's Wikipedia-level knowledge of 20th-Century Western thought. Strange digressions abound, in the form of the internal monologues of the protagonists, all of whom are outcasts of one type or another. Thus we learn that the solitary-yet-highly intelligent concierge favours Kant, and that Husserl and the phenomenologists are basically garbage. Such asides contribute nothing to the story. So why are they there? Presumably the intent is to prove that the author is as "intelligent" as the characters she is writing. This brings us to another problem with the book: the main characters bathe in the rarified air of high culture and literature, while the socially-powerful-yet-vapid people surrounding them serve are mere caricatures, consumed as they are with all of the lusts and chemical dependencies and empty consumerism of late capitalism. This false dichotomy rings hollow. Clearly the author intended the book as some kind of cultural critique; however, her unabashed adoration of the products of Western "high" art (not to mention a vaguely Orientalist idealization of Japanese culture) detracts from her ethos. This novel lacks the subtle social commentary of "Anna Karenina," which is clearly a favourite of the author's: allusions to it are peppered throughout the novel. Further, "Hedgehog" occasionally stretches the reader's ability to suspend disbelief (a 12-year-old blackmailing her family therapist while quoting Lacan? Suuuurrrrrre.). If this novel spent a year on the NYT Bestseller list, it's not because it's a smart novel, it's because it makes readers FEEL like they're smart for reading it. If you are looking for modern European philosophical fiction, keep moving. Many finer examples exist.

Apr 04, 2017

Not for everyone, it moves slowly and not much action except the changes in the characters. Lots of digressions. It feels very French, hard for a North American to accept the class divisions that are an important part of the book. But I would gladly re-read it, with more patience.

Nov 04, 2016

"Having a rich inner life" does not afford you the right to denigrate and look down your nose at others. One of the most pretentious and self indulgent novels I have read in some time. I am of the opinion that a novel reflects in many ways the beliefs and personality of the author. I would not walk across the street to meet this woman.

DCPL_Karen Nov 04, 2016

Sweet, simple, and surprisingly subtle.

Sep 10, 2016

What a delight; beautifully written and translated. Such a sad and sensitive story about the real lives and thoughts of the people living in a Paris apartment building.

Mar 23, 2016

Great book!

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Feb 07, 2013

"They didn't recognize me," I say.
I come to a halt in the middle of the sidewalk, completely flabbergasted.
"They didn't recognize me," I repeat.
He stops in turn, my hand still on his arm.
"It is because they have never seen you," he says. "I would recognize you anywhere."

Jul 27, 2011

[C]athedrals have always aroused in me the sensation of extreme light-headedness one often feels in the presence of man-made tributes to the glory of something that does not exist … [and] tested to the extreme my ability to believe that so much intelligence could have gone to serve so futile an undertaking.

Nov 15, 2010

That's just great; something like this would happen right before I die. Twelve and a half years in a cultural desert and right when it's time to go and pack it in a Japanese gentleman arrives . . . it really is too unfair.

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