Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery

In a bourgeois apartment building in Paris, we encounter Renée, an intelligent, philosophical, and cultured concierge who masks herself as the stereotypical uneducated “super” to avoid suspicion from the building’s pretentious inhabitants. Also living in the building is Paloma, the adolescent daughter of a parliamentarian, who has decided to commit suicide on her thirteenth birthday because she cannot bear to live among the rich. Although they are passing strangers, it is through Renée’s observations and Paloma’s journal entries that The Elegance of the Hedgehog reveals the absurd lives of the wealthy. That is until a Japanese businessman moves into the building and brings the two characters together.

This book was excellent. It was a bit of a slow start as you meet Renée, who plays a stereotypical concierge for an apartment complex of wealthy folks. In fact, Renée is not your stereotypical concierge, she’s a rather intelligent and cultured woman who believes she should hide this from her tenants. The reason for Renée’s actions is not revealed until the very end of the book, and in the beginning she spends a lot of time acting unintelligent that you wonder if the other tenants cared about whether she was brilliant or not.

The other voice in the book is Paloma, she’s a 12 year old who is extremely intelligent and has decided that on her 13th birthday she will commit suicide as she does not believe life has any reason worth living. She speaks through her Journal and Profound Thoughts and you get a glimpse into her life and why she thinks the way she does.

The two are brought together by a new tenant, and their friendship quickly blossoms. If you can hold on pass the slow start you will find the book rather enjoyable.

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