Saturday, October 9, 2010

'The Elegance of the Hedgehog'- Review

Publisher: Gallic

ISBN: 978-1-906040-1-85

Length: 320 Pages

Opening Line: "Marx has completely changed the way I view the world," declared the Pallières boy this morning, although ordinarily he says nary a word to me.'


Firstly, I want to wish all of my Spain based readers happy fiestas over the next few days. If you need any food, then I'm afraid that the supermarkets are closed so you will have to eat out!

Also, apologies for the lateness of this review, my mum's laptop suddenly died. Luckily we have a PC too, but the Internet has also been playing, you can't live with it, but you can't live without it!

Anyway, back to the review. 'The Elegance of the Hedgehog' is written by French novelist Muriel Barbery, and translated into English, by Alison Anderson.

The novel centres around Renèe, a concierge of a posh apartment building in Paris. To the residents, Renèe is a bit of a nobody. To them she has no importance and they believe that she should be regarded as 'lower' class, because they think that their lives are more important, because they have high powered jobs and they are more culturally educated than a simple concierge. However, Renèe is living a secret life.

Whilst Renèe puts on this facade of a poor, unintelligent concierge by buying bland, cheap food and having her television blaring in the background, when she enters her sanctuary in a room at the back of her flat, Renèe cooks herself richer, more decadent food whilst the 'peasant' food she buys, is given to her fat cat Leo. Also, Renèe lavishes in art, literature and having tea with her only friend Manuela, a Portuguese cleaning lady who sees the 'real' life of her rich employees and knows that they are the same as everyone else.

Another character which is central to the story is Paloma, a 12 year girl who lives in the same apartment building. Paloma is naturally clever, but like Renèe believes that she should dumb herself down because she is destined for a 'unreal' bourgeois life, which in her opinion, is pretentious and unfulfilled. So, she decides, that on her 13 birthday, she is going to commit suicide by burning her apartment down when no one but her is around, in order to escape her fate. In the meantime, she decides to use the remainder of her life by documenting all her observations of why the world is worth living in, through simple actions such as movement and beauty in everyday life.

These two characters seem to be an unlikely pair,but after the death of one of the residents brings a Japanese man named Monsieur Ozu into their lives, they realise that they don't have to conform to what is expected of them and that they are not alone in the world.

I was recommended this novel by a friend, who adores this novel. When I started reading this, I wasn't sure that I was going to enjoy it, because it seemed as if the characters were perceiving themselves as 'better' than everyone else. However, I decided to read it from the beginning again (at that point I was only on the second chapter, so I had the luxury of starting again) and I realised how completely wrong I was.

Renèe and Paloma are not the ones who think that they are better than everyone else, in fact it's the neighbours who look down on everyone else. The two characters are funny, warm and intelligent however any of their intelligence is relative to something, rather than being there because they want everyone else to believe that they are intelligent. I really cared for the characters and I thought that they were original and convincing.

The plot is brilliant, there are not many books that I could say had a plot in which was original and quirky, but this is one of them.

Muriel Barbery writes wonderfully, with subtle humour and I love the way that she gently makes fun of the pretentious people in the novel. I also love the way she weaves philosophy and culture into the story, without alienating the reader.

The main thing that I love about this novel, is Barbery's wonderful observational writing. This is mainly to do with the things that Paloma writes in her journals to do with 'Profound' Thoughts and her 'Journal of the Movement of the World'. Paloma observations are not only funny, but done in such a way to create movement and beauty into your mind and I thought it was beautiful.

There are many novels which I have enjoyed, but there are very few that I could say were special. 'Memoirs of a Geisha' by Arthur Golden is one of them and I also think that ' The Elegance of the Hedgehog' is another one. This novel is so unique and beautiful, that I would quite happily read this novel over and over again without getting bored. I would urge everyone to go out and buy this book, because it will give you a unique reading experience every time.


  1. I love the title, it's so unusual. May have to borrow this one from you!

  2. I love the title too! I borrowed a copy of this book from my friend, but when I get my own copy of this I'll lend it to you!

  3. I've heard mixed reviews about this book. It's actually sitting on my shelf- lent to me by boyfriend's mother. I have to say, your review is making me want to check it out right away. Now if only I didn't have a million other things I want to read too... hmm... :-)

  4. Yes to 'The Elegance of the Hedgehog'! I have read it twice and shall read it again - just because it epitomises what I am looking for in a book. Many books can be enjoyed, but few are special. This one comes into my 'special' category.

    It will not be to the taste of everyone, but if it is, you will be enchanted.