Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Elegance of the Hedgehog

I have to pop by for a few minutes while I am cooking a [late] chicken dinner to say a few words about a truly remarkable book.
The Elegance of the Hedgehog, by Muriel Barbery.
I just finished this book yesterday and I must say, I LOVED it.
This is a book that is heavy on idea, rather than plot. And so, to really appreciate this novel, one must love idea, and philosophical musing.
We hear these musings and "profound thoughts" through the voices of the book's two alternating narrators; a reclusive 54-year old female concierge named Renee, and a precocious, intellectually-gifted 12-year old girl named Paloma.
The author has these two personalities living in the same building, yet virtually unknown to each other until the later stages of the narrative.
Each of them feel the alienation of being extremely intelligent but not fully known or understood by those around them. Renee's difficulty has been lifelong, suffering from a negative self-image since childhood. She finds inner peace only in the pursuit of her autodidactic lifestyle, exacerbated since the recent death of her husband Lucien.
Paloma's issues are obviously more recently acquired, and thus not nearly as entrenched. Born into an affluent family, she suffers from a feeling of privilege, and feels intellectually distanced from everyone around her. Paloma develops a rather jaded attitude toward social interaction -- and harbors suicidal thoughts.
A wealthy Japanese man moves into the building and becomes friends with Renee. What he does for her self-image is truly revolutionary, and through wondrous turns and events, Paloma and Renee finally meet. What follows is a truly heartwarming merging of these three characters.
But relationships of mutual benefit and comfort [and love] inevitably carry with them the possibilities of triumph and tragedy. And so it is that Muriel Barbery gives us a book literally filled and crammed with the most beautiful and wondrous of ideas, yet also housed in the pain and sorrow of loss.
I'm not at all doing the book any justice with this brief review -- but my chicken is done! And so I must go.
Suffice it to say this is the best book I have read in 2012.
If you have read it, I would love to hear your opinion of it.



Stefanie said...

I have a copy of this and am looking forward to reading it, just haven't managed to slip it into the reading pile yet!

Anonymous said...

I read it "en français" since that is the original language. I'm sure it's even better in French than translated, which according to your review, is saying "quelque chose".

Merisi said...

I loved it, and I love your review, spot on!

I picked it up by chance, in Italy, in Italian, the translation so good, it could have been the original language.

Melwyk said...

What you said...I also really enjoyed reading this. Very thought provoking.

Joniel said...

A great book. You will also be able to find more information about Hedgehog here.