The Elegance of the Hedgehog is a study in the dichotomy of the hidden inner self versus outer perceptions. Paloma and René are each careful to build a facade that hides their true nature from the world. Until a new tenant moves into their building, this plan has worked well — but no longer. What happens when you meet someone who can see who you really are? Littered with dozens of literary, art, and music references, this quiet novel is a treat for lovers of culture. Beautifully written, poignant, and so very bittersweet. Recommended By Dianah H., Powells.com
Synopses & Reviews
The enthralling international bestseller.
We are in the center of Paris, in an elegant apartment building inhabited by bourgeois families. Renée, the concierge, is witness to the lavish but vacuous lives of her numerous employers. Outwardly she conforms to every stereotype of the concierge: fat, cantankerous, addicted to television. Yet, unbeknownst to her employers, Renée is a cultured autodidact who adores art, philosophy, music, and Japanese culture. With humor and intelligence she scrutinizes the lives of the building's tenants, who for their part are barely aware of her existence.
Then there's Paloma, a 12-year-old genius. She is the daughter of a tedious parliamentarian, a talented and startlingly lucid child who has decided to end her life on the 16th of June, her thirteenth birthday. Until then she will continue behaving as everyone expects her to behave: a mediocre pre-teen high on adolescent 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. This is a moving, funny, triumphant novel that exalts the quiet victories of the inconspicuous among us.
"This dark but redemptive novel, an international bestseller, marks the debut in English of Normandy philosophy professor Barbery. Renee Michel, 54 and widowed, is the stolid concierge in an elegant Paris hotel particulier. Though 'short, ugly, and plump,' Renee 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 Renee, 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.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"With its refined taste and political perspective, this is an elegant, light-spirited and very European adult fable." Kirkus Reviews
"[A] quiet, graceful book....[I]t leaps to soaring heights — movingly and beautifully....The strength of The Elegance of the Hedgehog is Barbery's ability to create characters that come alive with each thought, gesture and literary reference." Chicago Sun-Times
"Even when the novel is most essayistic, the narrators' kinetic minds and engaging voices (in Alison Anderson's fluent translation) propel us ahead." Caryn James, The New York Times Book Review
"The Elegance of the Hedgehog is one of those novels that hangs around in your head for quite a while after you've put it down. An enjoyable read." Rocky Mountain News
"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." Booklist
"Renee and Paloma are brought together by their mutual fascination with the building's new tenant, Kakuro Ozu, who sees through their carefully constructed identities which he does simply by refusing to believe that a concierge and a child are second-class citizens. Between the three of them, their appreciation for the whole of art literature, painting, film, even fine food allows them to transcend the walls of class, race, age, and gender." Sheila Ashdown, Powells.com
(read the entire Powells.com review
In this enthralling international bestseller, two girls live inconspicuous lives in the center of an elegant Paris apartment building. It is only when a stranger moves into their building — and sees through the girls' disguises — that Paloma and Renee discover their kindred spirits.
About the Author
The Elegance of the Hedgehog
is Muriel Barbery's second novel. Her first book, Une gourmandize
, has been translated into twelve languages. It will be published by Europa Editions in 2009.
Alison Anderson is the author of two novels, Hidden Latitudes and Darwin's Wink. She has translated two novels by Sélim Nassib for Europa Editions, I Loved You for Your Voice and The Palestinian Lover.