The Elegance of the Hedgehog
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The Elegance of the Hedgehog

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3.69 of 5 stars 3.69  ·  rating details  ·  80,776 ratings  ·  11,813 reviews
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,...more
Kindle Edition, 323 pages
Published September 2nd 2008 by Europa (first published January 1st 2006)
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trivialchemy
I recently had a brief relationship with a young lady who had studied philosophy at a university in southern California. The relationship was destined to be a brief one, as she left for the Philippines to join the Peace Corps just a week or so ago. On one of our last evenings together, she thanked me for something that I found curious.

She said, "Isaiah, have you ever met someone at a party or something who finds out you studied philosophy -- and then they just try to talk to you the whole rest...more
K
Mar 21, 2009 K rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: snobs
Shelves: maybe-it-s-me
My name is Renee, and I’m the first protagonist of this book – the hedgehog, as it were. I’m a 54-year-old concierge who works in a building populated by rich and powerful people who barely notice my existence. I’m also a closet intellectual and I frequently try to prove that to you by digressing into asides about philosophy, culture, and other topics. I alternate between sniping at the apartment owners for their snobbish indifference to my lowly concierge self (an image I strive to maintain at...more
Isabelle
This is another moment when I wonder what is wrong with me... Everyone in France recommends this book! The premise is original enough that I was hoping the book would be a real find: within the same super high end Parisian apartment building live 2 misfits: the 54 year old concierge who reads Kant and Tolstoi in secret and a 12 year old girl with abnormally high IQ and suicidal tendencies. The first half of the book is an excuse for the author's long academic digressions on Kant, phenomenology,...more
Eva
Jan 17, 2010 Eva rated it 1 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: NO ONE!
That so many people love this book makes me fear for the future of literature. It is one of the most pretentious, banal "novels" I've ever read. In fact, "novel" is too good a word for its bloggishly self-indulgent, smugly insipid meanderings. Actually most blogs are much more interesting than this book. The two main characters (the concierge Renee and the young girl, Paloma) are hypocritical snobs who accuse others of snobbery. This intolerance is forgiveable in a child perhaps, but not in a 53...more
Lisa
if you are an artist, a thinker, someone who longs for more, an aestheticist, a dreamer, a seeker.... then read this book. it made me laugh and cry in a way that only a well crafted, well loved, well written book can.
Elizabeth (Alaska)
I must admit this wasn't a 5-star read until the last 50 pages, which may actually make this a 6-star read. This book is beautiful for its underlying truth: we are all worthy of love, love that will surely be given, if we will but believe we are worthy.

My friend Rose, repeated the quote that referenced Renee Michel as being prickly like a hedgehog, but so elegant on the inside. For me, the section that spoke volumes was the Profound Thought by Paloma in defense of grammar:

Personally I think that...more
Amy
Even if I were to overlook the self-obsessed, banal philosophical discourses that dominate this novel, I would still hate 'Elegance of the Hedgehog,' mainly because its characters are contrived and unbelievable. The main character, a concierge for a luxurious Parisian apartment complex, is a self-taught expert in philosophy, art, and film, yet she pretends to be stupid. Her behavior is apparently explained by her conviction that people from different social classes should not interact or become...more
Chrissie
AFTER READING THE BOOK:
I just finished the book and I suppose it is better to let it sink in before I do a review, but since I do not think the following statements will be altered by further thought, I will state them now. First of all I rhink many who read this book will say OMG, it's a fairy tale! That couldn't happen. Well I don't agree. I am not going to give anything away, so don't worry. What happens, could happen, although I agree perhaps not that often. One has to believe and one has to...more
Steve
If you bite into this expecting a light, buttery, wholly unhealthy croissant, be forewarned -- it has some fiber in it, too. It’s about two unlikely intellectuals. One is a dowdy concierge in an upscale Paris apartment and the other is an unusual 12-year-old girl living there with her well-to-do family. I like how their brainpower comes through in their ideas and observations rather than from the author just telling us how “wicked smaht” they are (to borrow Chuckie’s phrase from Good Will Huntin...more
David
Initial review: 12/11/2008 -

I may revisit the 5-star rating in a week or two, but after reading this book through all last night in a single sitting, it seems ungenerous to give it anything less.

Muriel Barbery walks the high-wire throughout - there were any number of places where things could have degenerated into mere sentimentality. Not to mention the assorted philosophical digressions. But the alternating narrators - Renee the dumpy concierge and Paloma the precocious 12-year old - are so ch...more
Katya
after giving this book a chance, i have decided that the only chance it deserves is to be methodically shredded page by page and subsequently dissolved, in its entirety, in a pool of ammonia.

the rampant fetishism of japanese culture aside (which is seriously so disturbing and surprising to come across in a bestseller that was written within the past 5 years), the plot is entirely centered on the interior monologues of two characters, two characters who are so unctuously trite and platitudinizing...more
oriana
The Elegance of the Hedgehog is an absolutely breathtaking book. Just stunning. Light and airy, yet penetrating, with bits of soft brilliance on every page. My goodness, what an astonishing book.

There are two narrators. The first is Renée Michel, a middle-aged concierge at an extremely opulent luxury apartment building in Paris. She has spent her twenty-five years there cultivating a careful persona of low-class idiocy – leaving the TV on at all times, maintaining an unkempt appearance, speaking...more
Jennifer (aka EM)
"this is the fear, this is the dread
these are the contents of my head..."


I've always loved that line from Annie Lennox's Why. This book is about the contents of two characters' heads: Paloma, the 12-yr old suicidal prodigy, and Renée, the 50-something cat-lady concierge. Be careful with these characters, and by that I mean: take care of them, for they are fragile, sad souls in need of understanding and in need, moreover, of someone--anyone--to see through their facades and see them for who they...more
Del
What a wonderful book. While reading, when I wasn't bobbing my head in agreement with the philosophical insights, I found myself consulting a dictionary to learn a new word or idea, or pausing to absorb and consider what I'd just read. I'll go through it again soon because I'm sure there's so much I've missed. The pages I'd like to reconsider are already marked and my next reading will probably be carried out with a highlighter. This is on my list of "best books read". Thought-provoking is an un...more
Lisa Vegan
Mar 19, 2009 Lisa Vegan rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: those who enjoy getting to know interesting fictional characters
Shelves: fiction, reviewed
Some asides before the review: Ugh. One of my pet peeves is when books don’t start on page 1 and I think that this book starts farther ahead of page 1 than any book I’ve ever read. Enough said about that. Also, in this edition there are some mistakes: fourth and sixth floor residents get mixed up two times, the age difference/direction of the sisters was given incorrectly in one instance, I think. I tried, mostly successfully, not to be too OCD like Colombe, Paloma’s sister, as I am normally bot...more
Donato
[Italian translation of course!]
I give this one 3 1/2 stars. I thoroughly enjoyed the book -- the philosophical observations, the interweaving of the thoughts of the concierge with those of the precocious young Paloma, the idea that Art is important -- but, but... in the end, it just felt too, I don't know, constructed, thought out. Like I can see the author taking all the things she does in her own life ( drinking tea, watching Ozu, getting all spiritual and zen over art) and transferring it to...more
Lee
An enjoyable, elegantly complex, brainy, huge-hearted, and ultimately MOVING book. Cynically, it could be called "Jasmine Tea for the Covert Intellectual's Soul" -- or it could be seen as a smart variation on a Bridget Jonesy chick lit wherein characters talk of true beauty, tea, Ozu, life, death, Tolstoy, and moments outside time, instead of men, marriage, and their weight. At first, I semi-resisted the super-smart "likeable misfit" narrators, but warmed to it once those characters came to life...more
Molly
Nov 26, 2008 Molly rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Molly by: Book club
This is a wonderful book. It took awhile for it to grow on me but once I got into it I couldn't put it down. It's a book about questioning the stereotypes we assign to others and about questioning the roles we put ourselves in. I would highly recommend this book.
Richard Reviles Censorship Always in All Ways
Rating: 3.5* of five

My revisited review lives at my blog where it can't be monetized by people who don't pay me.
Antof9
So here's a first: I didn't like the ending but I still liked the book! I don't know that that has ever happened before. Perhaps because it was so abrupt; I'm not sure. I SMSd my sister-in-law after I finished it and said, "shocking ending to Hedgehog Elegance!" Her reply: "Yes, very French." Which -- duh -- explained it all.

This was such an interesting book for me! In the beginning, I really liked it. Then during the middle third, I was sort of "meh" on it. I also realized it's one of those boo...more
Stephanie
One French word explains this book: "une deception". "Deception" means disappointment, but in this case, the word also applies to its "faux amis" (false friends) translation: deception.

After all the fuss I've read about this book, I expected something nearly transcendent. But instead "The Elegance of the Hedgehog" is predictable, overly politically correct and quite pretentious. Ironically, the main characters all disdain the snobbism of the rich, yet at the same practice snobbism themselves. S...more
Tracy
Itunes had this one on sale, so I'm listening.

Update: I've been listening to it on and off for an hour or so. I think I hate it. Will keep trying...

Update #2: I'm still trying, but so far I loathe this audiobook. I forgot that I hate Barbara Rosenblatt's narration in general, but she is particularly bad here. I think I'll be giving this one up. I hate that I spent money for this though (even though it wasn't much).

Update #3: Got the physical book out of the library. Going to try that.

Update #4:...more
Manny
"Philosophy is the disease for which it should be the cure, but isn't," said someone - possibly H. Feigl. To me, this engaging book is above all an exploration of what it means to be a philosopher. The author briskly dismisses common misconceptions: to start with, you don't need to be an academic, and indeed this may well be harmful. Really, being a philosopher is about having a certain kind of attitude to the world.

The two main characters, who alternately narrate the story, are both philosophe...more
Lúa.
Qué maravilla pensar que no te va a gustar un libro, y aun así seguir leyéndolo.
Maravilla cuando de repente, y no sabes cómo, te engancha tanto que te mantiene hasta las tantas de la mañana leyendo.
Me gusta que me pase eso con los libros, que al principio me den por pensar "¡Ésto lo dejo!" y sin saber cómo pienses "Que no acabe..que no acabe nunca".


El motivo por el cual al principio no me gustaba demasiado el libro es porque, en mi opinión, tiene un lenguaje un tanto rebuscado, a veces se vuelve...more
Caris
I've only read one other piece of philosophy that attempted to parade itself as fiction. The Story of B. by Daniel Quinn, I felt, was a huge failure. By planting it in the fiction section, those who might have found use of it were denied. Of course, perhaps that's for the best. The book wasn't written well and left me feeling frustrated. It is no wonder that Ishmael, the “novel” preceding it, encouraged one crazy asshole to take a number of hostages at the Discover Channel headquarters, where he...more
Margitte
What happens when you have a French professor in philosophy as author, two strong-minded, self-loving protagonists and a deliciously snobbish environment combined in a novel? You have The Elegance of the Hedgehog in the making. Add some spicy references to Marx, Feuerbach & Kant et all, apply it all to American movies, the French lifestyle choice, the pets' names, cooking and dinner company, and the plot thickens!

Jean-Jacques Roussea's "Liberté, égalité, fraternité" - ("Freedom, equality, b...more
Cheryl
Where can wisdom be found? That's the question Harold Bloom answers with the storied intellects of Plato, Shakespeare, Cervantes, Goethe, Freud and Proust among others. Their dialogues, plays, novels, essays and ruminations are full of answers to our deepest longings and most pressing questions about life. It is to these masters of philosophy that we turn...

Certainly not to a 54 year old widowed, dowdy, ugly concierge with offensive morning breath. The only sounds from her are monosyllables when...more
Bruce
Apr 14, 2011 Bruce rated it 1 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: no one
Shelves: fiction
I was very disappointed, to say the least, in this well-reviewed and very popular novel from France. Yes, it's about Beauty, and Art, and the Meaning of Life (all worthy subjects, certainly: the best sort) but I can do without the upper case, in-your-face insistence on these "big" topics. I prefer stories with more subtlety and less self-consciousness. The details of the every day lives of the concierge and her rich employers are mildly amusing, but mostly I found the book boring, which is the w...more
Maureen
a very good friend of mine recommended this book to me over the holidays. she'd read it in french, and was thrilled when she found there was a good translation to english so the rest of us could enjoy it. i was so pleased to write her to say how very much i liked this book.

the characters seem very real to me, and i felt that the more i read, the more i wanted to, as the two narrators renee, the concierge, and paloma the little rich girl that lives in the building renee services spun out a story...more
Sue
How to describe this book. There are many reviews already written, descriptions of the story. Plot is not the primary purpose here; rather it is life and a life well lived. Madame Michel is the self-deprecating concierge of a luxury apartment building in Paris. Paloma is the 12 year old, soul-searching child of one of the tenants. Thus far it doesn't sound like much to commend it but these two women (old and quite young) are actually hiding in plain sight. Each is trying to find a true life to l...more
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Muriel Barbery is a French novelist and professor of philosophy. Barbery entered the École Normale Supérieure de Fontenay-Saint-Cloud in 1990 and obtained her agrégation in philosophy in 1993. She then taught philosophy at the Université de Bourgogne, in a lycée, and at the Saint-Lô IUFM.
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La timide et très discrète Muriel Barbery ne s’imaginait sans doute pas faire l’objet de l’engouement qu...more
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“I thought: pity the poor in spirit who know neither the enchantment nor the beauty of language.” 259 likes
“People aim for the stars, and they end up like goldfish in a bowl. I wonder if it wouldn't be simpler just to teach children right from the start that life is absurd.” 210 likes
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