The elegance of the hedgehog

Muriel Barbery, 1969-

Book - 2008

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FICTION/Barbery, Muriel
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Subjects
Published
New York : Europa Editions 2008.
Language
English
French
Item Description
"2007 French booksellers prize"--P. [4] of cover.
Physical Description
325 p. ; 21 cm
ISBN
9781933372600
1933372605
Main Author
Muriel Barbery, 1969- (-)
Review by Booklist Reviews

In a bourgeois apartment building in Paris, we encounter Renée, an intelligent, philosophical, and cultured concierge who masks herself as the stereotypical uneducated "super" to avoid suspicion from the building's pretentious inhabitants. Also living in the building is Paloma, the adolescent daughter of a parliamentarian, who has decided to commit suicide on her thirteenth birthday because she cannot bear to live among the rich. Although they are passing strangers, it is through Renée's observations and Paloma's journal entries that The Elegance of the Hedgehog reveals the absurd lives of the wealthy. That is until a Japanese businessman moves into the building and brings the two characters together. A critical success in France, the novel may strike a different chord with some readers in the U.S. The plot thins at moments and is supplanted with philosophical discourse on culture, the ruling class, and the injustices done to the poor, leaving the reader enlightened on Kant but disappointed with the story at hand. Copyright 2006 Booklist Reviews.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

Published in France in 2006, this work quickly captured the European imagination, and the advance praise is sufficiently glowing to guarantee attention in the English-speaking world. The novel itself is more problematic. Philosophy professor Barbery—the author of one previous novel, Une gourmandise —has fashioned a slow and sentimental fable out of her own personal interests—art, philosophy, and Japanese culture—about a widow who serves as caretaker of a Parisian apartment building and a troubled girl living in the building. Barbery attempts to make the story appear more cutting-edge by introducing dizzying changes in typography, but the effect seems precious from the outset and quickly grow tiresome. Recommended for public libraries where literature in translation is in demand and for academic libraries to complement their French collections.—Sam Popowich, Univ. of Ottawa Lib., Ont. [Page 53]. Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.

Review by Publishers Weekly Reviews

This dark but redemptive novel, an international bestseller, marks the debut in English of Normandy philosophy professor Barbery. Rene Michel, 54 and widowed, is the stolid concierge in an elegant Paris htel particulier . Though "short, ugly, and plump," Rene has, as she says, "always been poor," but she has a secret: she's a ferocious autodidact who's better versed in literature and the arts than any of the building's snobby residents. Meanwhile, "supersmart" 12-year-old Paloma Josse, who switches off narration with Rene, lives in the building with her wealthy, liberal family. Having grasped life's futility early on, Paloma plans to commit suicide on her 13th birthday. The arrival of a new tenant, Kakuro Ozu, who befriends both the young pessimist and the concierge alike, sets up their possible transformations. By turns very funny (particularly in Paloma's sections) and heartbreaking, Barbery never allows either of her dour narrators to get too cerebral or too sentimental. Her simple plot and sudden denouement add up to a great deal more than the sum of their parts. (Sept.) [Page 30]. Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.

Review by Publisher Summary 1

The lives of fifty-four-year-old concierge Rene Michel and extremely bright, suicidal twelve-year-old Paloma Josse are transformed by the arrival of a new tenant, Kakuro Ozu.

Review by Publisher Summary 2

The international bestseller that has sold over 10 million copies worldwide. The Elegance of the Hedgehog is a moving, funny, atmospheric novel that exalts the quiet victories of the inconspicuous among us. We are in an elegant hôtel particulier in the center of Paris. Renée, the building's concierge, is short, ugly, and plump. She has bunions on her feet. She is cantankerous and addicted to television soaps. Her only genuine attachment is to her cat, Leo. In short, she is everything society expects from a concierge at a bourgeois building in a posh Parisian neighborhood. But Renée has a secret: she is a ferocious autodidact who furtively devours art, philosophy, music, and Japanese culture. With biting humor she scrutinizes the lives of the building's tenants—her inferiors in every way except that of material wealth.  Then there's Paloma, a super-smart twelve-year-old and the youngest daughter of the Josses, who live on the fifth floor. Talented, precocious, and startingly lucid, she has come to terms with life's seeming futility and has decided to end her own on the day of her thirteenth birthday. Until then she will continue hiding her extraordinary intelligence behind a mask of mediocrity, acting the part of an average pre-teen high on pop 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.

Review by Publisher Summary 3

The phenomenal New York Times bestseller that “explores the upstairs-downstairs goings-on of a posh Parisian apartment building” (Publishers Weekly).

In an elegant hôtel particulier in Paris, Renée, the concierge, is all but invisible—short, plump, middle-aged, with bunions on her feet and an addiction to television soaps. Her only genuine attachment is to her cat, Leo. In short, she’s everything society expects from a concierge at a bourgeois building in an upscale neighborhood. But Renée has a secret: she furtively, ferociously devours art, philosophy, music, and Japanese culture. With biting humor, she scrutinizes the lives of the tenants—her inferiors in every way except that of material wealth.
Paloma is a twelve-year-old who lives on the fifth floor. Talented and precocious, she’s come to terms with life’s seeming futility and decided to end her own on her thirteenth birthday. Until then, she will continue hiding her extraordinary intelligence behind a mask of mediocrity, acting the part of an average pre-teen high on pop culture, a good but not outstanding student, an obedient if obstinate daughter.
Paloma and Renée hide their true talents and finest qualities from a world they believe cannot or will not appreciate them. But after a wealthy Japanese man named Ozu arrives in the building, they will begin to recognize each other as kindred souls, in a novel that exalts the quiet victories of the inconspicuous among us, and “teaches philosophical lessons by shrewdly exposing rich secret lives hidden beneath conventional exteriors” (Kirkus Reviews).

“The narrators’ kinetic minds and engaging voices (in Alison Anderson’s fluent translation) propel us ahead.”—The New York Times Book Review

“Barbery’s sly wit . . . bestows lightness on the most ponderous cogitations.”—The New Yorker