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January 2017: Foreign Literature > "The Elegance of the Hedgehog" by Muriel Barbary (4 and a half stars)

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message 1: by KateNZ (new)

KateNZ | 2327 comments Renee lives a lie. She is the concierge of a luxury apartment block in Paris - a status that is well off in comparison with her family's roots in poor rural France, but far below the occupants of the apartments. She pretends to be everything that a stereotypical Parisian concierge should be - unintelligent, uncultured, sour and frumpy. Yet her hidden life is quite different: she devotes all her spare time to literature, film and art, and has read more philosophy than most of the residents put together.

Upstairs on the fifth floor lives Paloma Josse, a cynical and highly intelligent 12 year old, who detests her family's pretentions. Seeing no escape from the 'goldfish bowl' she has determined to end it all on her 13th birthday, to make a statement about the futility of their existence.

But when one of the other apartment residents dies and his property is sold, both Renee and Paloma are unwillingly dragged out of their respective shells and into a much warmer connection with others.

I can see why this book tends to polarise opinion. Both main characters are cultural snobs, their musings on philosophy and life tend to be pretentious, their cynicism is wearing (even though amply deserved, given the behaviour of those around them) and the near-worship of all things Japanese - as a contrast to the self-indulgence of the Parisian society figures that they observe - leans heavily on stereotypes. Muriel Barbary's day job as a professor of philosophy shows in every page, and as a complete non-philosopher, I missed many of the references.

But despite all that, I'm firmly on the "love it" end of the scale. I adored Renee and Paloma. Their faults could not disguise the enormous warmth and potential in each of them - in fact their faults made their virtues more obvious. The writing is absolutely beautiful throughout; even when philosophising, the writing is often masterfully concise. The observations on other people, and the names they call them, are cutting and exaggerated, but often hilarious. It's about life, love, and the triumph of the human spirit in unexpected places. I found the book very hard to put down. I laughed, I cried, I hoped, I pondered. It's one of the most uplifting books I've read in a while.


message 2: by Booknblues (new)

Booknblues | 5779 comments This has been on my TBR and your review brings it closer to the top. Thank you.


message 3: by KateNZ (new)

KateNZ | 2327 comments Booknblues wrote: "This has been on my TBR and your review brings it closer to the top. Thank you."

I hope you enjoy it as much as I did! There are some unexpected gems in it. The dogs and the cats are particularly funny.


message 4: by JoLene (new)

JoLene (trvl2mtns) | 1532 comments I am on the enjoyed it camp as well. I listened to the audio and also know that I missed some of the philosophy. I also lived in France (not Paris though) so the book also brought back some nice memories.


message 5: by Diane (new)

Diane Zwang | 485 comments I am in the love it camp also.


message 6: by Olivermagnus (new)

 Olivermagnus (lynda214) | 2023 comments I really liked this one too. The film is very well done. I rented it after reading the book and it added a lot to my overall experience.


message 7: by Ladyslott (new)

Ladyslott | 1880 comments Loved it! Great review


message 8: by KateNZ (new)

KateNZ | 2327 comments Olivermagnus wrote: "I really liked this one too. The film is very well done. I rented it after reading the book and it added a lot to my overall experience."

That's great to know - I will definitely have to go and find it.

Thanks for all the comments, team :)


message 9: by Joi (new)

Joi (missjoious) | 3809 comments A true love-it or hate-it read.


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