[Review] The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery

Title: The Elegance of the Hedgehog, originally in French: L’élégance du hérisson
Author: Muriel Barbery, translated by: Allison Anderson
Page: 320 pages
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Subject: Apartment - Concierges, Paris (France)
First Published: 2008 (in English)

Renée is the concierge of a grand Parisian apartment building on the Left Bank. To the residents she is honest, reliable and uncultivated—an ideal concierge. But Renée has a secret. Beneath this conventional façade she is passionate about culture and the arts, and more knowledgeable in many ways than her self-important employers.

Down in her lodge, Renée is resigned to living a lie; meanwhile, several floors up, twelve-year-old Palome Josse is determined to avoid a predictably bourgeois future, and plans to commit suicide on her thirteenth birthday.

But the death of one of their privileged neighbours will bring dramatic change to number 7, Rue de Grenelle, altering the course of both their lives forever.

- Synopsis from book cover

The story is told in two alternating narrators, both among the few interesting characters I have read so far. 

Renée is fifty four years old, short, ugly, plump, a widow and a concierge. But despite her social status, she is a very cultured woman. She reads literature (Anna Karenina is her favorite), philosophy, enjoys art films, paintings and music.

Palome on the other hand is the daughter of rich parents. Despite her young age, she is a very insightful girl whose refusal to end up in a “goldfish bowl” resolves to her decision to set the apartment on fire and commit suicide. Her portion of the story was written in a series of journal entries known as “Journal of the Movement of the World” and “Profound Thoughts”:

“..if you commit suicide, you have to be sure of what you’re doing and not burn the house down for nothing. So if there is something on the planet that is worth living for, I’d better not miss it, because once you’re dead, it’s too late for regrets, and if you die by mistake, well, that is really, really, stupid.”    (page 33)

This book is jam-packed with titillating anecdotes on various topics; from the smallest things such as animal behavior to tea drinking culture to Anna Karenina to Phenomenology. And coming from a French philosopher cum writer herself, Muriel Barbery’s book is really a book about philosophy and the questions of life.

I love the writing style. The chapters are relatively short so you won’t feel too bogged down with the facts. From the beginning I know that I’m in the hands of a very erudite person who also can write! Some parts of the ending was quite predictable but rest assured that you will be moved by this story.


It sounds great. I love the cover of this edition.
Anonymous said…
The Elegance of the Hedgehog was one of my favorite audiobooks in 2010, and Renée my most favorite character of the year. see my review here: http://wordsandpeace.wordpress.com/2010/10/19/the-elegance-of-the-hedgehog/. The narrator is perfect for the book.
Barbery has published a 2nd book, Gourmet Rhapsody, where you will find 2 characters you already know. It's very good too, and will make you salivate. I highly recommend it. here is my review: http://wordsandpeace.wordpress.com/2011/06/16/my-review-47-gourmet-rhapsody/
Emma @ Words And Peace