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101 of 106 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars ultimately magnificent
If there was ever a book that deserved sticking with, this is it. I have to admit that at first I really hated it, for all the reasons that the other reviewers who hated it gave - pretentious language, arrogant characters, boring philosophical pontification, BUT I persevered, mostly because it's my book group read, and I found myself warming to the book more and more as I...
Published on 18 Jan 2010 by Mrs. S. R. Wray

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48 of 48 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Flawed, but ultimately rewarding
This is a difficult book to categorise and that, in itself, makes it interesting. Is it a deeply philosophical story about the beauty of art, the loneliness of the artistic soul and the French class system? Or is it a pretentious and unconvincing story about unlikely characters?

Renée is a 54-year-old concierge in an apartment block catering to wealthy...
Published on 26 April 2010 by Ms P. E. Vernon


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48 of 48 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Flawed, but ultimately rewarding, 26 April 2010
By 
Ms P. E. Vernon "Verns" (Weston-Super-Mare, England) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Elegance of the Hedgehog (Paperback)
This is a difficult book to categorise and that, in itself, makes it interesting. Is it a deeply philosophical story about the beauty of art, the loneliness of the artistic soul and the French class system? Or is it a pretentious and unconvincing story about unlikely characters?

Renée is a 54-year-old concierge in an apartment block catering to wealthy Parisians. She is patronised and belittled by the residents, but is complicit in the way she is treated, since she makes a concerted effort to disguise her true nature and her love of art and literature. Paloma is the troubled 12-year-old daughter of one of the families who live in the apartment block. She, too, hides her intellect from her family and, convinced of the futility of life, has resolved to kill herself on her 13th birthday. Their stories are told in alternate chapters (helpfully, each voice is characterised by a different typeface) and the first part of the book deals with their philosophical musings and their disdain for virtually everyone around them.

We, the readers, can see how much they have in common, but they are each so self-obsessed and introverted that a meeting of minds seems unlikely. Then one of the residents dies and the apartment is sold to a Japanese gentleman who, in a matter of moments, perceives and understands their separate loneliness and prickly defensiveness. He is the catalyst who breaks through their shells and encourages them to reveal their true natures.

The second half of the novel, which deals with this awakening, is more satisfying. Instead of chapters of interminable solipsistic philosophy, we get a story. Eureka! Although this meant, for me, that the book became a pleasure to read rather than a chore, I was still left with the feeling that it was all rather too pat and therefore unbelievable. Both Renée and Paloma emerge from their shells remarkably quickly. Would Renée, who has submerged her true identity so thoroughly and successfully, have succumbed so easily to revealing herself to others? Would she and Paloma have established such a close friendship in such a short time?

On balance, while there are flaws, I'm glad I read this book. I took from it the message that we should seek the moments of beauty in life and treasure them. Accordingly, I found myself turning to the poetry of Keats when I'd finished the book, which cannot be a bad thing.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Average., 17 Sep 2008
By 
Victoria (London, UK) - See all my reviews
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Like some other reviewers on here, I am not entirely sure how or why this book has become a bestseller (though I do find myself thinking this more and more often!!) It isn't bad as such, but I agree that you are left wondering what the point of it all is. I found both central characters quite unlikeable - their intellectual ramblings got on my nerves and slowed the pace of the novel to a halt.

The novel follows a concierge of an apartment block for the rich who hides her intelligence behind what she conceives to be the archetypal stereotype of her social role, and a thirteen year old brainbox of a rich kid who is planning to kill herself and torch the family home on her thirteenth birthday. It is rather quaint and quirky, and some of the prose is rich (and I must say, very nicely translated.) But the novel generally left me feeling like it was trying too hard to make profound philisophical statements about not much at all. Perhaps on a second reading it would improve in my estimation, but on the whole, I just didn't get it.
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101 of 106 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars ultimately magnificent, 18 Jan 2010
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This review is from: The Elegance of the Hedgehog (Paperback)
If there was ever a book that deserved sticking with, this is it. I have to admit that at first I really hated it, for all the reasons that the other reviewers who hated it gave - pretentious language, arrogant characters, boring philosophical pontification, BUT I persevered, mostly because it's my book group read, and I found myself warming to the book more and more as I got further in to it. Generally the main characters in a book go on a journey, and that's true of this book, but I think that I, as the reader, also went on a journey, perhaps even more so, as my attitude towards the characters changed until I truly loved both Renee and Paloma. As another reviewer said, the plot comes alive after the arrival of the Japanese gentleman, and I became competely gripped from this point on. Toward the end I was actually pleading out loud to the book to make things turn out the way I wanted, and having just finished reading, I'm still wiping away tears. I once read a book called 'splashes of joy in the cesspool of life' and I think that title somewhat sums up the theme of this beautiful book - beauty in the midst of tragedy. I could so easily have given up on this book, but I'm very glad I stuck with it.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Hedgehog Syndrome, 2 May 2010
By 
Mrs. Katharine Kirby "Kate" (HELSTON, Cornwall United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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I picked up from a really useful amazon review that this is a phrase used in France to describe a person who crosses the road for no known reason; inevitably used symbolically at the end of `The Elegance of the Hedgehog'. Thank you `Sal' from France. Clever! Well, the whole book is indubitably clever and I'm not so much into overly pretentious seeming and potentially excluding writing. So I say that I enjoyed this book very much - in parts. And those parts really made the reading experience worthwhile, thankfully.

I liked the camaraderie and sparkling dialogue around Renee's table in her `lodge', a word that kept reminding me beavers and otters - which rather suits Madame Renee Michel. I was glad that she had the wonderful Manuela as a friend and that profound thinker Paloma tracked her way down to the lodge to find her salvation. I enjoyed the charming, kind, Fairy Godfather Kakuro Ozu and his renovation of the Monsieur Arthen's apartment; this work sounded absolutely gorgeous and was described so temptingly. Perhaps apart from the loo flushing music; however the gales of laughter it inspired were well worth its inclusion.

There is an element of farce bestowed by the running up and downstairs, opening doors, watchful, social climbing neighbours and the scene where Renee, unrecognised, and Mr. Ozu merrily set off together arm in arm for their celebration dinner. The same happens when Renee visits the dry cleaner and happily accepts the wrong dress. The callers at the door of the lodge, which was occasionally shut in their faces, also contributed to the feeling of a Brian Rix farce in rollicking full swing. I am considering leaving for our book club to discuss this book armed with a basket filled with macaroons, whisky tarts, tuiles, madeleines, "Gloutofs" "Nun's farts" whatever they are, all in pretty tissue paper.. How Renee would have enjoyed a Book Club.

Some characters spring to life more convincingly than others. Olympe is a star, who wouldn't want her as a neighbour and friend. The cat Leo and Neptune the dog I loved. Paul Nguyen was comfortably friendly and well mannered. Others stayed flat on the page. I could have done without Colombe's thesis.

The themes involving layers of class, the servant relationship and the giving up of hope were well drawn and helpful. Some of the philosophical thinking touched a nerve but other paragraphs of flowery prose just flowed by. The love of language, grammar and punctuation was admirable and a reminder of lost perfections.

Muriel Barbery has written an enormous best seller. The reviews are really mixed so this book appeals to some a lot and a lot just some.
It has a quality of difference and depth that make it intriguing and exotic. It is easy to get involved with Renee who saw herself as old and beyond love at 54. By peasant standards, to which she holds firm, that is old. Hopefully though not by modern day women!
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24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Holier than thou, 27 Jun 2009
Much as this story was well written, full of clever and profound remarks about life, literature and art, much as it revealed the workings of an indisputably highly intelligent mind, there was a tone of arrogance strung through it from beginning to end that left me incapable of sympathizing with its characters. While the story depicts the richness of the inner world of the main character (the concierge) as opposed to the ignorance and prejudice of her residents, who constantly acted in the belief that they were superior to her, the narrator adopted the same tone of superiority towards them, in the self-same one-dimensional, arrogant, cold-bordering-on-hostile attitude. The pretense to lay claim to modesty when depicting how the concierge constantly sought to hide her true nature, was not at all convincing. There was something haughty and pretentious in the way the story was told, despite all its cleverness and profound thoughts, and that something left me cold.
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Sad but beautiful, 10 April 2010
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Denise4891 (Cheshire) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Elegance of the Hedgehog (Paperback)
I very nearly abandoned this book at around page 50 when I hit a particularly philosophical patch and the musings on the meaning of life, art and literature were whistling over my head. However, something drew me back to it and I'm glad I persevered.

Of the two main characters, Renee cuts a very lonely figure; she's only 54 but she hides her intelligence and compassion behind a dowdy, prickly exterior (no prizes for guessing where the title of the book comes from). She has some acerbic observations to make about some of the residents of the apartment building where she works as a consierge who, despite their left-wing socialist leanings, act like she's invisible until they want her to take in a parcel, water their plants etc. Her only friends are her fat ginger cat Leo (named after her hero Tolstoy) and the Portuguese cleaning lady Manuela, that is until an enigmatic Japanese gentleman moves into the building and begins to coax Renee out of her shell.

Twelve-year-old Paloma, a resident of the apartment block, has a brand of world-weary cynicism which is by turns funny and endearing, particularly when aimed at her vacuous sister and interfering mother. She spots a kindred spirit in Renee and the two form an unlikely but very touching friendship.

There are numerous philosophical interludes dotted randomly throughout the book which frankly went way over my head, but I found I could skim them and still follow Renee and Paloma's stories. I don't know if I missed out on any deep and meaningful messages, but I was more than happy with what I did read. The message from me is 'Persevere', as I found it a rewarding, darkly humorous story about loneliness and friendship.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Tres Parisienne, 23 Feb 2009
By 
Julia Flyte - See all my reviews
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The unusual title of this book was what initially pulled me in. It's the story of two people who live in the same Parisian apartment building. Renee has been the concierge for some 27 years now. She keeps her passions for Tolstoy, classical music and Japanese films to herself. Paloma is a resident in the building, 12 years old and very precocious. She has decided that life is futile and is making plans to commit suicide on her 13th birthday. "The Elegance of the Hedgehog" refers to a description of Renee that Paloma writes in her diary.

This is a slow moving book, very wordy and very French. For a long time I was torn between enjoying the philosophical musings and feeling like it was all pretentious and over-written. The momentum picks up when a new resident comes to live in the building and gradually the three form friendships. Ultimately it's about seeing beyond the exteriors that people present to the world. (I think.) It takes a long time to go anywhere, but I channeled my inner Marion Cotillard and went with it. If you're finding it hard going, stick with it as it eventually comes together in a very satisfying conclusion.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not the easiest of reads but deeply satisfying, 10 Aug 2010
This review is from: The Elegance of the Hedgehog (Paperback)
I bought this book as a Waterstones 3 for 2 on a complete whim. When I began to read the novel I was deeply disappointed it was dreary, wordy and far too philosophical. However, I read a few reviews on this website, and was really glad I did, as it seemed that everyone had had the same experience but raved about the latter part of the book...so I persevered.

From about page 60ish onward I really began to warm to this novel and the central characters who are vividly portrayed and thoroughly interesting. The narration from 12 year old Paloma was a bit tedious in places but I thought the concierge, Renee, was absolutely fabulous and her reflections on ordinary life were fascinating.The final pages of this novel were wonderful and the writer's reflections on the grand philosophical issue of the meaning of life were, after all the wordy soul-searching, simple and beautiful.

I would encourage anyone to persevere with this novel. You will probably detest the start, but the lyrical prose at the end is worth it all. Fabulous!
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Elegance of the Hedgehog, 31 May 2009
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An interesting read but the style of writing took a while to get used to, it is very elaborate and almost academic but so full of somewhat cynical observations (particularly about French society) that it is well worth the effort. The way the events are portioned into short extracts makes it easy to read although at the beginning I found this a bit confusing as it is not always clear which character is writing until you 'get into'the book. I was bothered by the fact that you do not find the name of one of the two main characters until three quarters of the way through the book, for some reason this irritated me but a French colleague told me that this was deliberate. When I finished the book I was motivated to read it again in the original (French)version, I think the translation is probably a very good representation of the style in which the book was written.Apparently the 'hedgehog syndrome' of crossing the road without any clear reason is well known in France and also symbolic of the ending of the book which I found sad!
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Would've been better as a short story, 15 Sep 2008
By 
Mo "mo79uk" (London, UK) - See all my reviews
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The Elegance of the Hedgehog is a book to sate the appetite of the average professional critic. Why? It has a beautiful title, it's a translated foreign title (and congratulations to A. Anderson for a sterling job) and it's packed with poetry and delicious wording.

However, to me it only ended up average. There doesn't seem to be any concrete plot and along with the central heroines, their cleverness, particularly at the beginning is hard and unlikeable. As you go through the pages and get used to writing style you tend to build a good picture of the characters and a slight affinity but I kept thinking 'And what? Get to the point.'

When the point comes, it's unsatisfying. The point is a good moral to behold but reading the end alone would've sufficed than the whole book. We've spent all this time bombarded by profound thoughts and tea with Manuela, that when the u-turn happens, it's like 'oh well, that's life'.

I hate to be harsh as there is something genuinely good about Barbery's book but I fail to see why it's a best seller. Maybe this is the Kiran Desai effect where people are temporarily fallen in love with the palette an author has rather than the strokes they use.

Not bad, but I wouldn't recommend it.
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The Elegance of the Hedgehog
The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Alison Anderson (Translator) (Paperback - 14 May 2009)
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