Friday, August 16, 2013

The Elegance of the Hedgehog - Muriel Barbery

This is the story of two people - Paloma, a 12 year old girl who is plotting her suicide and Renee, a 60-something concierge of the building where she lives.  They are both isolated by their beliefs and thoughts about how the world defines their place in it until a new tenant moves in that opens their eyes to other possibilities.

The book's title comes from an observation Paloma makes about Renee's friend and some of the tenants' housekeeper, Madame Michel ..."[she] has the elegance of the hedgehog: on the outside, she's covered in quills, a real fortress, but my gut feeling is that on the inside, she has the same simple refinement as the hedgehog: a deceptively indolent little creature, fiercely solitary--and terribly elegant."

Paloma is critical of her family and the world, feeling she is far to intelligent to bear the dreariness of reality.  Renee is also very intelligent yet hides it because she feels it is not appropriate for her position in life.  Both are really very lonely people who are not comfortable connecting to other people because of their own misguided self concepts.

I think the author went overboard in revealing Paloma and Renee's knowledge to make the point that intelligence does not bestow a clear view of reality.  As a result, the characters are annoyingly pretentious. I felt the author was being smug and could have made her point with far fewer words.

The reviewers loved this book, gushing over its irony and wit, calling it elegant and exquisite.  I guess I'm a plebeian.

Published: 2006   Read: August 2013   Genre: Fiction

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