Muriel Barbery "Elegance of the Hedgehog"
Sitting down to write this review I have a great desire to do this book justice. I am not sure that I can. "Elegance of the Hedgehog" is a truly astonishing book. It is a beautifully conceived story; a very simple story, really. We are taken into the inner worlds of two residents of an expensive Parisian apartment block. The story is told in the first person by two characters. The first of these is the apartment's widowed concierge, Renee. The other part of the narrative is told by Paloma, a twelve year old girl who lives with her parents and older sister in one of the luxurious apartments.
Renee and Paloma are like-minded souls who, on the surface, live very different lives. The two characters don't "connect" with each other in the narrative until well into the story. Underneath, both Renee and Paloma are highly intelligent, instrospective and generally misunderstood. Worse than that, they feel acutely misunderstood by those around them and do much to perpetuate this. Both are at heart fearful, which leads to self isolation and a retreat into the safety of their own musings. It must be said that these two muse with great style. Paloma and Renee share a passion for philosphy, art and literature. Their musings on these are a pure delight and form the real juice of this story.
Ms Barbery cleverly intersperses deliciously arty and philosophical recitations with the human relationships in this drama. All of it is incredibly accessible and entertaining.
"Elegance of the Hedgehog" plays out on many levels and is rich in existential themes. The thought that left me breathless, on completing the book, is really quite a simple one. Ms Barbery allows us to feel the power and optimism that is generated when one human being really acknowledges another.
Well done Ms Barbery and thank-you. I suspect "Elegance of the Hedgehog" has illuninated something important for me.