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Elegance of the Hedgehog Paperback – 1 May 2009
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‘Resistance is futile … you might as well buy it before someone recommends it for your book group. Its charm will make you say yes’ The Guardian ‘Clever, informative and moving … this is an admirable novel which deserves as wide a readership here as it had in France.’ The Observer ‘The novel wins over its fans with a life-affirming message, a generous portion of heart and Barbery’s frequently wicked sense of humor’ Time Magazine ‘A book of great charm and grace.’ The Metro ‘The book’s attractive, Amélie-esque Parisian setting and cast of eccentrics will appeal to many’ Sunday Telegraph ‘This breathtakingly singular novel … is totally French yet completely universal’ Good Housekeeping ‘Reveals itself as a version of the Cinderella fairytale’ Financial Times
About the Author
Muriel Barbery is a former lecturer in philosophy and bestselling author. The Elegance of the Hedgehog has gone on to sell more than 6 million copies worldwide and has been described by Le Figaro as ‘the publishing phenomenon of the decade’.
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One point, though. I believe in the paper edition, different type faces are used to distinguish the chapters written by Renée and Paloma. This is not the case in the Kindle edition which can be quite confusing.
Set in a well-to-do Parisian apartment building on the Left Bank, our first narrator is Reneé; the deceptively clichéd middle-aged concierge, who listens to Mahler, reads philosophy and hides any inkling of intellectual curiosity behind her pinny and misshaped slippers.
A second occupant of No. 7 rue de Grenelle is Paloma, twelve years old and determined to get no older. She intends to die by her own hand when she reaches the age of thirteen, because what it the point of life?
Their alternating thoughts on the French class system, snobbery, ascription of value, sense of self and relative complacency in their own intelligence are thrown into disarray on the arrival of Mr Ozu. When this cultured Japanese man moves into the building, their distanced disguises proved not to be as convincing as they thought.
This is a pensive, mannered and well-constructed novel which weaves a gossamer web around the reader, involving you in concepts and characters you couldn’t leave if you wanted to.
I think I would have enjoyed the book more had it not been built up so much as it is actually in many ways just a rather ordinary but pleasant and ultimately moving story. I wasn't convinced by the fact Renee had to hide her learning - I couldn't see why - these days it's not a surprise at all who is interested in what, and learning is available to all. Unless things are different in France. Many of the references were obscure and Renee came over as rather an intellectual show-off while Paloma rather as a spoiled ungrateful brat. I almost gave up but liked the book more with the Japanese guy, although again I was entirely unconvinced by his interest in Renee purely because they liked the same books - it's not that rare to enjoy Tolstoy.
When he says to Renee "This is the twenty-first century for goodness sake!" I thought "hear hear."
There is a final twist and I'm glad there was resolution of a kind and I'm happy I stuck with it, the second half made it worth it. Incidentally, the translator must have had a really difficult job with this book, the text is so convoluted at times.