The Elegance of the Hedgehog, by Muriel Barbery

The Elegance of the HedgehogOh, book club, you make me read the weirdest things. I only wish I had remembered how astonishingly weird the French are before I, you know, finished this novel.

I think I can be forgiven for this oversight, as the first half of the book is resolutely not weird, it is in fact academic and philosophical and pretentious and really just boring. Then it gets less pretentious and more interesting and even a bit intriguing, and then the weird French-ness kicks in and I am like… oh boy.

So there are these two protagonists, and they both live in this fancy-pants apartment building in Paris. One is the middle-aged concierge who works really really hard to be the most concierge-y concierge who ever was a concierge. Except secretly she’s a lover of culture and philosophy and academia, except even more secretly she enjoys grocery-store mystery novels and action movies. Layers, you see. The other protagonist is a twelve-year-old who lives in the building and who is overly precocious, though she often pretends not to be. Oh, and she’s planning on killing herself on her next birthday more or less because she’s got nothing better to do with her life. As one does.

They do their stuff, blah blah blah, and it may not surprise you to find out that the best part of the novel happens when their paths cross. There are some small interesting bits up to that point — interactions with family and friends and some backstory to spice things up — but of course it’s all leading up to the two meeting.

I must say that even though I enjoyed this part of the novel, and would probably read just that part again, it is apparent that I did not read this book correctly. Someone brought in the publisher’s book group questions and for one, they were all just as snooty sounding as the first half of the book. So we had some trouble discussing those. For two, some of the questions asked questions that made no sense or directly opposed what I thought about the story or the writing. (Particularly, spoiler alert?, one question talked about what a life-affirming book this is, whereas I found it utterly depressing and a bit cynical.) So… yeah. Don’t trust my word on this one?

Also of note is that like Room before it, I half read and half listened to this book, and also like Room the child narrator was so much better rendered in audio than in print. I should probably just start these precocious-kid books in audio from the start, yes?

Recommendation: Good for a book club (lots to discuss!), perfect for college students who need something to discuss at 3am.

Rating: 6/10

2 thoughts on “The Elegance of the Hedgehog, by Muriel Barbery

  1. Steph & Tony Investigate! says:

    Ha ha ha! I admit I gaggle no interest in reading this book, whatsoever, even though I like France and the French. But your review made me laugh several times, which I did find life-affirming, so I suppose in that respect, reading this was better than reading the book anyhow!

    • Alison says:

      Aw, thanks! I do my best. 🙂 Hey, when you end up in France you should ask them why they’re so wackadoodle and report back! (You can say you’re asking for a friend.)

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