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Elegance of the Hedgehog | [Muriel Barbery]

Elegance of the Hedgehog

An enchanting New York Times and international best seller and award-winner about life, art, literature, philosophy, culture, class, privilege, and power, seen through the eyes of a 54-year-old French concierge and a precocious but troubled 12-year-old girl.
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Audible Editor Reviews

The Elegance of the Hedgehog tells the story of a life spent in hiding. Madame Michel is the concierge of a luxurious Parisian apartment building, tending to the plants, signing for packages, and polishing the brass, retreating when she can to her rooms on the first floor. She keeps a television blaring where the tenants can hear it; she zealously polices her speech and gestures to keep from giving herself away. What is the secret she hides? Madame Michel is an intellectual. She knows Kant, but she's separated by class from other people who do, so she discusses his work with herself while we listen in. Her musings are voiced by Barbara Rosenblat, who lends an air of theatrical irony — an auditory raised eyebrow — to her descriptions of class blind spots and philosophical rabbit holes.

The other pole of the story is Paloma Josse, a 12-year-old tenant in the building, voiced by Cassandra Morris with an appropriate measure of sarcasm and outrage. Paloma is a wildly precocious girl raised in privilege who has all the gifts of intellect and all the faults of a pre-adolescent. She's grandiose — she favors us with excerpts from a journal titled "Profound Thoughts". She's happy to throw stones at glass houses, and even plans to burn hers down, with the aim of teaching her family a pithy lesson about deprivation. She describes the currently deprived in terms that, while well-intentioned, condescend and distort. She is, in other words, a burgeoning intellect in serious need of the influence of an adult she can respect. An adult, perhaps, like the 54-year-old concierge on the first floor. But it takes more than a ride in an elevator to truly meet a woman who has spent her life in hiding. The novel takes two world views, both meticulously constructed from sound philosophical materials, and happily pulls them apart. —Rosalie Knecht

Publisher's Summary

An enchanting New York Times and international best seller and award-winner about life, art, literature, philosophy, culture, class, privilege, and power, seen through the eyes of a 54-year-old French concierge and a precocious but troubled 12-year-old girl.

Renee Michel is the 54-year-old concierge of a luxury Paris apartment building. Her exterior (short, ugly,and plump) and demeanor (poor, discreet, and insignificant) belie her keen, questing mind and profound erudition. Paloma Josse is a 12-year-old genius who behaves as everyone expects her to behave: a mediocre pre-teen high on adolescent subculture, a good but not outstanding student, an obedient if obstinate daughter. She plans to kill herself on the 16th of June, her 13th birthday.

Both Renee and Paloma hide their true talents and finest qualities from the bourgeois families around them, until a wealthy Japanese gentleman named Ozu moves into building. Only he sees through them, perceiving the secret that haunts Renee, winning Paloma's trust, and helping the two discover their kindred souls. Moving, funny, tender, and triumphant, Barbery's novel exalts the quiet victories of the inconspicuous among us.

©2006 Editions Gallimard, Paris; (P)2009 Highbridge Company

What the Critics Say

"Gently satirical, exceptionally winning and inevitably bittersweet." (The Washington Post )
"An exquisite book in the form of a philosophical fable that has enchanted hundreds of thousands of readers." (Italian Elle)
"Kinetic minds and engaging voices." (New York Times Book Review)
"By turns very funny and heartbreaking". (Publishers Weekly)
"Life-affirming." (Time)

What Members Say

Average Customer Rating

3.6 (2420 )
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Performance
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  •  
    brenda brisbane, Australia 02-26-11
    brenda brisbane, Australia 02-26-11
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    1
    1
    Overall
    "horrible book"

    I hated this book, not because of the audio quality although the voices were annoying but because it is a pretentious snob of a book. The only saving grace was that I didn't waste time sitting reading it and could do housework etc while listening so it did not encroach on my "own time" so to speak.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Lydia Stouffville, Ontario, Canada 02-22-11
    Lydia Stouffville, Ontario, Canada 02-22-11 Member Since 2015
    HELPFUL VOTES
    10
    ratings
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    11
    7
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    0
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    Overall
    "FIVE STARS IF NOT MORE!"

    I can't wait for Muriel Barbery's next novel! I fell in love with this book and its characters. One of those books you can't put down and can't bear when it's over. The narrators, two of them, are fantastic. The contrast between the menopausal concierge and the suicidal young girl is fantastic. I can't decide whom I liked best. The girl I guess. I saw myself in her. Inquisitive, enthusiastic but at the same time questioning and seeking. Beyond her years, but we'll allow this to the author. Makes for a very interesting read. Funny, though, I also saw myself, as a menopausal woman, in the conceirge. Dual heriones but quite opposites. This book will appeal to the more intellectual, well-read listeners with its many references to classic literature and art. Highbrow but in a very good way! No down talking to the reader. Very lofty but still very funny.
    Highly recommended...loved it, loved it, loved it!

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Diana K. Jonen 01-21-11 Member Since 2015

    DKJ

    ratings
    REVIEWS
    6
    2
    Overall
    "Wonderful and warm"

    This book is not for people who prefer action and adventure. For me, it was a quiet exploration of what it means to live a worthy and fulfilled human life, through the eyes of a 12 year old and a 54 year old. I enjoyed it thoroughly and will think back on it often. This one I might even listen to again, because the writing is so skillful that it's almost like poetry.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Karl Kyle, TX, United States 01-14-11
    Karl Kyle, TX, United States 01-14-11
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    2
    2
    Overall
    "Not enough story"

    It is usually appropriate for a writer to occasionally side step the main story for a philosophical tangent that consists of no more than a few short paragraphs but this book is 90% tangents and only 10% story. Unfortunately this cute story with lovable characters is enveloped in various, sporadic philosophical thoughts that are very pretentious. There is nothing wrong with speculating, but there is such a thing as thinking way too much. It’s not a bad book; it just gives you way too much of the unnecessary to digest all at once.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Liviu Bucharest, Romania 01-05-11
    Liviu Bucharest, Romania 01-05-11 Member Since 2010
    HELPFUL VOTES
    11
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    56
    5
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    FOLLOWING
    0
    0
    Overall
    "Intriguing, if you manages to grab your attention"

    It started slow, for me, wanted to give up reading a few times but it paid off by the end. The characters and their troubles didn't really resonate with me and it took almost half of book for me to really get into it. But by the end I was quite sad it ended and left me wishing for more. It's not a bad book.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Book Lover Virginia 01-02-11
    Book Lover Virginia 01-02-11 Member Since 2006
    HELPFUL VOTES
    5
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    48
    4
    FOLLOWERS
    FOLLOWING
    0
    0
    Overall
    "Don't waste your time"

    Someone whose taste I trusted recommended this book. What a terrible disappointment. The story is static and the characters very predictable. The voices of the narrators are terrible and the whole tone of the story is so smug and self-satisfied, I found myself talking back to the book. I noticed the reviews on Amazon are also very divided. But as for me, there was no question: this was a dreadful waste of time. If I could rate it lower than 1 star I would.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Karen Kailua, HI, United States 12-30-10
    Karen Kailua, HI, United States 12-30-10
    HELPFUL VOTES
    0
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    144
    4
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    0
    1
    Overall
    "What a waste of time!"

    This book was boring.... I gave up after the first half hour.... It was like being seated next to a pretentious person at a formal dinner. You are stuck sitting next to them and forced to listen while they talk, and talk and talk, about nothing of interest, while you wait hoping for some kind of a point to what they are droning on about.....
    Don't bother getting this book!

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Deborah arroyo grande, CA, United States 11-24-10
    Deborah arroyo grande, CA, United States 11-24-10
    HELPFUL VOTES
    16
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    26
    11
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    0
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    Overall
    "a tale that slowly builds to an unexpected ending"

    This story is alternately told by the older French concigere (sp?) and the adolescent girl living in her building. Its strange because they seem unaware of each other for more than half the book. Instead both write reflections on life. If, like me, you are hoping for a tale about the interaction between the two main characters, you will have to wait until the very end of the book. I found the story interesting, but slow. However I kept listening and was rewarded by the end of the tale.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Catherine S. Read Fairfax, VA USA 11-22-10
    Catherine S. Read Fairfax, VA USA 11-22-10 Member Since 2010

    A digital media consultant and business strategist. I'm a lifelong lover of books in all forms.

    HELPFUL VOTES
    14
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    69
    16
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    1
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    Overall
    "Exquisitely Beautiful"

    It is one of the most beautiful books I've ever heard read. I love it! I'm sure I will listen to it over and over again.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Nina MacKay 11-14-10
    Nina MacKay 11-14-10 Listener Since 2009
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    7
    4
    Overall
    "Wonderful book."

    The reader was amazing and the best part of audio books is that all of the foreign names are pronounced correctly.
    What a variety of strong characters and a surprise ending. This is a great read.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful

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