Steve's Reviews > The Elegance of the Hedgehog

The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery
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Jul 03, 13

Read in October, 2009

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 Hunting).

Their outsized crania were not always easy to carry. Renee, the concierge, was not to the manor born (probably more like the servants’ quarters) and she never seemed to forget it. She had a real thirst for knowledge, though –- an accomplished autodidact in philosophy, film, art, and music. But she never felt comfortable sharing any of these joys with anyone given what she felt the attitudes towards a woman of her social standing would be. The girl was a different story. Her cross to bear was how to carve out a niche for herself in a family that was all too comfortable with its elevated status. Her main weapon against the soullessness of life in the upper crust was cynicism. She wielded it well, sometimes to humorous effect. At times she may not have seemed real, but then you could say the same about the Coneheads, and if you recall, they too were from France.

As everyone knows, smart people don’t always figure out ways to be happy. This is one of the themes. However, they might just meet someone with a clear-sighted appreciation for hidden beauty, an easy manner, and a rich vein of empathy for kindred spirits. Much of the meeting up takes place late, but is powerful when it finally does. The spoiler police prevent me from saying as much as I'd like.

In addition to interesting characters, a solid plot, and real wisdom to impart, the book was well-written to boot. I rarely think to appreciate how difficult a translator’s job must be to project a distinctive voice, but this work really stood out. Comment on dit “2 thumbs up” en Francais? At least I know how to say croissant + fibre = still délicieux.
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Comments (showing 1-50 of 76) (76 new)


message 1: by Arah-Lynda (new)

Arah-Lynda As everyone knows, smart people don't always figure out ways to be happy.
True words.


Steve And happy people don't always figure out ways to be smart. I'm always hoping for as much overlap as possible, though.


message 3: by Rakhi (new)

Rakhi Dalal Wonderful review,Steve! And you are so right when you sayAs everyone knows, smart people don’t always figure out ways to be happy. This is one of the themes. However, they might just meet someone with a clear-sighted appreciation for hidden beauty, an easy manner, and a rich vein of empathy for kindred spirits. Agreed!


message 4: by Garima (new)

Garima 'Wicked smaht' review, Steve. I like reading about smart kids, they keep me grounded (hihi). I see you read this in 2009, so it remained with you all this time? I should definitely read it.


message 5: by Cecily (new) - added it

Cecily Steve wrote: "And happy people don't always figure out ways to be smart. I'm always hoping for as much overlap as possible, though."

Wise words, and it sounds like a fascinating, but also entertaining book. Thanks for bringing it to my attention (I had vaguely heard of it, but it hadn't really registered).


Steve @Rakhi -- I liked how the books (i.e. characters) were not to be judged by their covers. The fact that the books were given a chance by a close reader (another character) was good to see.

@Garima -- Thank you! Yes, you should be kept grounded to whatever extent possible given your tendency to soar. :-) This could be a good one for you!

@Cecily -- It's a few years old, but did make a bit of noise here when it was released in translation. They made a movie of it, but it was a difficult one to adapt.


message 7: by Gary (new)

Gary  the Bookworm So whole wheat croissants can be tasty, too?


Steve Yes, Gary, but I cheat by putting extra butter on them.


message 9: by sckenda (new)

sckenda Great review, Steve. Very tasty.


message 10: by Gary (last edited Jul 04, 2013 08:37AM) (new)

Gary  the Bookworm Steve wrote: "Yes, Gary, but I cheat by putting extra butter on them."

As Julia Child once said, Vive la beurre! (If she didn't actually say it, she definitely thought it.)


Steve Steve aka Sckenda wrote: "Great review, Steve. Very tasty."

Thanks, Steve

:b.

(I'm not very good at emoticons. Does that look at all like someone salivating?)


Steve Gary wrote: "As Julia Child once said, Vive la beurre! (If she didn't actually say it, she definitely thought it.)"

Haha -- that's better than "C'est la guerre; c'est la pomme de terre!" though I'm sure Julia knew her way around a potato, too (especially with enough beurre)!


message 13: by Sue (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sue I've got to find those whole wheat croissants!

I loved this book and plan to re-read it after a suitable interval (whatever that is). Very nice review.


Steve Sue wrote: "I've got to find those whole wheat croissants!

I loved this book and plan to re-read it after a suitable interval (whatever that is). Very nice review."


I feel very self-righteous whenever I eat them. :-)

Hope you enjoy the 2nd read through, Sue. Seems like the kind of book that offers enough subtlety to appreciate upon repeating.


message 15: by Sue (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sue I think it will.


Susan Can it really be almost four years since we read this beautiful story? And how did I miss your wonderful review? It's rather elegant itself, as well as insightful and informative without spoiling things for potential readers. Merci beaucoup!


Steve Time is accelerating, Susan, in case you hadn't noticed. :-) Yes, EotH was many books ago.

And thank you ! I love it when you speak French. [Kiss kiss kiss up and down Susan's arm Gomez Addams-style].


Susan Je vous en prie. :)


Steve XXXXXXXXXXXXXXX!


message 20: by Susan (last edited Jul 05, 2013 11:33AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Susan If only I could remember Morticia's usual response...

Oh, and I guess I should have said Je t'en prie? Or just de rien?


Steve Susan wrote: "and I guess I should have said Je t'en prie"

Well yeah, I think we've been on tu terms for quite a while now. :D


message 22: by Madeleine (new) - added it

Madeleine Steve, this is amazing. (You get extra kudos for the food analogies -- the quickest way to my heart is, indeed, through my stomach, literally and metaphorically.)

I picked this up on the strength of a few friends' reviews when I found it at my favorite used bookstore; your review makes me so glad I took a chance on it. Thank you for another insightful, heartfelt review, and thank you again for making me want to read this sooner rather than later. Your penultimate paragraph (aside from being beautifully wrought) has assured me that there are oceans of genuine humanity to be found in these pages. This sounds like it will be the perfect chaser for my fourth helping of Proust.


Steve You compliment so creatively, Madeleine. It's always much appreciated! I also recognize that it's lunchtime, and that must be why my food analogies went over well.

I feel pretty confident you'll like this one. It might even be that ideal complement to Proust -- if you're still OK with a food reference, this could be the fromage to his vin rouge. (Come to think of it, "chaser" was already the perfect comparison.)


message 24: by Sue (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sue Perhaps I should re-read this before I finally begin Proust (whenever that somewhat unscheduled event happens).


Steve Sue wrote: "Perhaps I should re-read this before I finally begin Proust (whenever that somewhat unscheduled event happens)."

Since you haven't started Proust yet, I guess this could be considered the amuse bouche. (OK, I promise that's the last French food term.)


message 26: by Sue (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sue that's probably good, as I've forgotten most of my French!


message 27: by Miriam (new)

Miriam Steve wrote: "Since you haven't started Proust yet, I guess this could be considered the amuse bouche. "

Or you could save it for dessert! This is also called a "hedgehog"




Steve Those look way too good to have the name hedgehog, though I suppose you could argue that their elegance fits the theme. Thanks for posting, Miriam! It's going to be hard waiting for lunch now that you've whetted my appetite.


message 29: by Sue (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sue I wish I could somehow grab one from my screen!


message 30: by Miriam (new)

Miriam This was a surprise discovery! I was looking for images of cooked real hedgehogs (didn't find any, though I did find some recipes) and instead learned of this dessert! Something made out of chocolate that I've never heard of -- how is that even possible?!


Steve I don't know which made me laugh harder, your line about a chocolate dessert you'd never heard of or the fact that you did an image search for roasted hedgehog -- the real kind.


message 32: by Gary (new)

Gary  the Bookworm Isn't it too soon for all this midsummer madness?!


message 33: by Miriam (new)

Miriam That's when the hedgehogs are at their plump and juiciest!


Steve Say, these do look pretty good!


message 35: by Gary (new)

Gary  the Bookworm Yum! I'm glad you didn't post that picture in the same thread as the chocolates.


message 36: by Miriam (new)

Miriam NOM ✓



NO NOM




message 37: by Sue (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sue :)
Thanks Miriam


Steve Miriam, that's absolutely perfect! Can I hire you to append pictures to all my reviews?

I'm looking up the recipe right now for those cookies.


message 39: by Miriam (new)

Miriam Sure! Will work for cookies.


message 40: by Mark (new)

Mark What a great review, Steve! It receives the Official Spoiler Police Stamp of Approval. :D

description

From the setup, this story echoes my favorite elements of Downton Abbey. Mary just recommended this to me about a week ago and now your review makes me wanna dive in asap!


message 41: by Mark (new)

Mark Miriam, your hedgehogs are awesome!


Steve Mark wrote: "What a great review, Steve! It receives the Official Spoiler Police Stamp of Approval. :D ..."

I'd have joined the Spoiler Police squad long ago had I known they got to drive such cool cars. :-)


message 43: by Mark (new)

Mark Ha!!! I bet if we did a YouTube search we would find a fail video where this car attempted to drive under an unusually low overpass. And... Didn't quite make it... :D


Steve It may be that I didn't choose the best keywords for my search, but my attempt to turn up the relevant footage was a bust, Mark. You'd think some enterprising youtube auteur would have thought to provide such a thing. Wait a minute... are you thinking what I'm thinking?! It could go viral if we did.


message 45: by Mark (new)

Mark I think I am!! Let the shooting...er...I mean, accident begin!


Margitte I really would love to read this book. Everyone who finished it is happy with it. You did well in convincing e even further with your review. Great job!


Steve Thanks, Margitte! I hope this turns out to be an enjoyable read for you.


message 48: by Lynne (last edited Jul 24, 2013 07:14AM) (new) - added it

Lynne King I've just seen your super duper review Steve. A must buy...I see it's not on Kindle and I've been told by "the home front" no more book deliveries "for the moment". Have to get around that somehow!

I always seem to miss reviews. They whizz by....


Steve Thanks, Lynne! I suppose the question for you is whether to read it in French or in English.


message 50: by Lynne (new) - added it

Lynne King That's true Steve!

French authors I prefer to read in French if possible and English authors in English.


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