Saturday, 27 March 2010

Book Review: The Elegance of the Hedgehog

I actually finished this about a week ago but have been putting off writing my review because I couldn't quite work out my thoughts. However, as a few people have specifically requested a review, I am finally giving myself a kick and here it is. Oh, and yes, I did pick it purely because the title is lovely.

The Elegance of the Hedgehog is written by Muriel Barbary, orginally in French. As my French skills are basic (which is being generous), I read it in the English translation by Alison Anderson. The novel is jointly narrated by Renee, a concierge in a Paris apartment building filled with rich people, and Paloma, a twelve year old girl, living with her family in one of these apartments. They are both highly intelligent - Renee hides her intellectual capabilities behind the facade of being a "typical concierge", and Paloma, scornful of the shallowness she sees in her family and neighbours, plans to commit suicide and burn down her parents' apartment on her thirteenth birthday. A new inhabitant, Monsieur Ozu sees right through Renee's mask, and the two begin a friendship based on great appreciation for art and literature. Simultaneously, both get to know Paloma better and the three become friends.

I found the beginning of the novel extremely dull - I struggled through the first third of the book before all of a sudden it became fascinating and I couldn't put it down. At first I thought this was frustrating and badly done - the reader is made to work so hard to get through the first section, which is full of pontificating and pretension. Then I realised that the book reflects the lives of Renne and Paloma - at first they are trudging through, desperately looking for moments of beauty and profundity. It is only when Monsieur Ozu arrives in their lives (and in the book) that action is forced, there suddenly seems to be light and life in everything. So, frustrating as it was to have to struggle though the beginning (and I wouldn't blame anyone for giving up on the book) - it is worth it.

The main characters I found to be a little odd, but somehow their developing relationships made them understandable and likeable. However I thought the secondary characters were characatures, and not very believable. On the other hand, maybe that was deliberate - they are shallow, and have no depth, and that is reflected in how they are described and portrayed. I haven't read many books set in Paris, and found that aspect of it interesting.

The ending (which I won't give away), I thought was unnecessary and I was a little disappointed by it - but you'll have to read it yourself and let me know your thoughts.

In conclusion - I do think this is worth reading, but it's not one of my favourite books of all time. It's the kind of book that is stuffed full of essay material - I can appreciate it, coming from an English Lit degree, but it might not be everyone's cup of tea. If you're looking for an easy read, this isn't for you - if you're wanting something a bit challenging in writing style, this could be it.


  1. Interesting! I think it's interesting that the writing style changes with the characters growth, but it might drive me nuts to have to get through the first third of the book!

  2. I'm glad you reviewed this! My copy is still sitting unread on my coffee table because a few friends started it but gave up due to the dull beginning. I think I'd still like to read it (as a fellow English-Lit nerd!)


Thanks for reading! What are you thinking?


Blog Widget by LinkWithin