Friday, December 18, 2009

The Elegance of the Hedgehog

Book: The Elegance of the Hedgehog
Author: Muriel Barbery
Like/Don't Like: Lovely

My friend Teresa said to me one day last week, "Have you read The Elegance of the Hedgehog? It's like The Solace of Leaving Early only slightly less philosophical." And that got me hooked because The Solace of Leaving Early was, hands-down, my favorite read of 2009, even with all that Christian philosophy that I only barely grasped and all those really big words that I couldn't find in my dictionary. The next night I was over at her house and she lent it to me and by the next day I didn't want to put it down. Dear Teresa, I owe you cookies. Or would you rather a skein of yarn? Love, Rachel.

The story is set in a swanky Paris apartment building and the narration switches between Renee, the landlady, and Paloma, a 12 year old resident. Renee is a self-taught intellectual who loves Tolstoy and Japanese films. She hides behind the stereotype of her humble position, never letting on to the ultra-rich residents of the building that she is more than what she seems. Paloma is a smart kid who has decided to light the building on fire and then commit suicide on her 13 birthday because she has yet to find a good enough reason to live. She's not depressed, but every example of adulthood that she seems only reinforces her idea that growing up is pointless.

Their stories don't join up until about halfway through when a Japanese business man moves into the building and recognizes that both of them are hiding their true selves from everyone around them. It is beautiful how these three people find each other, despite their cultural and social differences.

It is translated from French, which means that there are some phrases, especially the slang that Paloma uses, that get a bit lost. And I recommended this book to a friend who then told me that she started reading it but stopped because she couldn't get past all the philosophy and the back and forth narration in the beginning but to that I say, "KEEP GOING!" because it mellows out pretty quickly. You start to see the parallel lives that Renee and Paloma are leading and the similar thoughts that they are having and you just hope that they'll meet up. It's lovely when they finally do.


Rach said...

It's going on my "to read" list. First I need to get through the gazillion pages of "The Historian" so I can move on. (Which is fascinating and also extremely creepy, and I can't seem to put it down, which is unfortunate for my neighbors, who are not ever going to get the Chex mix I promised to make them.)

Teresa p said...

Cookies are not necessary, but I would love to borrow the rest of the Georgia books if possible. I'm hooked.

Valerie said...

Do I have a bone to pick with you, Knecht. I bought this book (new, I might add) on this reccommedation, and it managed to hit every single one of my literary pet peeves right on the head.

First of all, isn't Renee's concern about keeping her smartness a secret a little self-aggrandizing. Does it ever occur to her that maybe people won't really care? Because, it occurs to me.

And, is it just me, or is everyone else a little over how enlightened, beautiful, simple, and pure Asian cultures are? Especially when compared to how shallow, putrid, and vapid Western cultures are? Is that just me?

There were some nice parts, and I must have liked it enough to finish it, but, overall, I could do without the suffocating self-importance of it all.

p.s. With this exception, I dependably agree with your tastes.