David's Reviews > The Elegance of the Hedgehog

The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery
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's review
Jun 11, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: read-in-2008, unexpectedly-terrific
Read in December, 2008

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 charming that I just went with the flow. I granted Mme Barbery my willing suspension of disbelief, trusting that I was in good hands.

And Muriel, God bless her, delivered the goods. An enormously satisfying ending to a highly unusual book.

Now that the book has been translated into English, it seems highly likely that Oprah will pick it. It would be a shame to hold that against it.

Update 12/12/2008:

Well, the five stars didn't even last 24 hours. Although I was swept up enough by the book to read it in one sitting - which should be acknowledged as a major point in the book's favor, by the way - some of its weaknesses become evident upon reflection. Unlike some of the other reviewers, the fairly hefty dollop of implausibility attached to the two protagonists didn't bother me all that much - the author is constructing a kind of fable, after all. But it has to be said that the way Barbery plonks in whole pages of ponderous ruminations on art, philosophy, Japan-worship, just like that is (a) a completely intrusive artifice and (b) a huge structural weakness. Aren't authors suppose to show and not tell?

Then, too, my inner cynic has to cavil just a little bit at the unlikely perfection of the emotional harmonic convergence towards the book's ending. Mr Ozu seems more than a little too good to be true. And, for that matter, once you get away from the hypnotically, charmingly persuasive voices of the two narrators, the thought might cross your mind that maybe the other residents of the building aren't quite the shallow monsters they are made out to be throughout the book. Maybe the much maligned older sister, Colombe, deserves a break as well.

The moral of this story is that I should impose a 24-hour waiting period before assigning ratings. I still give "hedgehog" a strong recommendation, though.
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Reading Progress

12/11/2008 page 100
30.77% "Pretty awesome so far."
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Cecily I waited longer than usual before reading this, and I know what you mean: I enjoyed and think it's a good book, but had I reviewed it as soon as I finished, it might have had the fifth star. A curious thing.

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