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
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
"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)
I managed to finish it but it was a struggle. I never connected with the characters... I didn't care if Paloma killed herself or not. ugh. Two things you should know 1) I don't think I like this "type" of book and 2) I listen to audiobooks in mini chunks of 20-30 minutes and this book would probably have been better served by large listening portions.
I loved this book. The two narrators, the woman and the young girl, are fascinating characters - totally believable, funny, thought-provoking and deeply touching. I really, really cared about them, and I won't forget them. And two readers are two of the best I've heard on audiobooks. At times the story's arc is as eccentric as the characters but stick with it, especially if you have any interest in philosophy, language, Japanese film, commas, the perspective of outsiders, or the meaning of life.
Barbara Rosenblat reads the character of an intellectual and contained Gallic concierge as if she were performing a one woman revue of a gossipy shrew from Little Odessa. The narration is actressy and irritating, brimming full of embarrassingly misused pauses for underlining effect. I regret not going directly for the printed novel.
I don't want to listen to the pretentions and supposedly esoteric musings of this woman, or the girl, although the girl was easier to listen to. I didn't have a problem with the narrators as other people seem to have had. I thought the ending was horrible and sudden. I am shocked this book has been on the NYT best sellers list for months. I can't explain why!
Yes but only people interested in books that tell the story between the lines instead of straightfoward storytelling. If you're expecting what-you-see-is-what-you-get this is not the book for you.
The end. Devastating.
I loved the tones -- those kinds of nuances may not have been so visible in just reading the book.
Yes although it's not a book I would re-read even though it would probably yield more mysteries/stories if I did.
yes. i read the book years ago, but the characters really came to life in the audio book.
mozart's requiem played when she flushed the toilet. it was a wonderful moment!
the touching ending.
renee of course.
the narration was superb!
Love the Story.
Both narrators are very articulate and emphatic. I just could see Ms. Rosenblat as Mme. Michele, I could imagine her facial expressions and body language as she told the story. Ms. Morris as Paloma was great too - she was precocious and precious at the same time.
At the end, when Renee Michele was describing how she woke up very hungry and she ate bread with plum jam, and the moment right after that.
I really wanted to like the girl and the concierge because of their intelligence. But I couldn't relate to them because of the disdain they had for the bourgeois and others who weren't as intelligent and aware as they were. Yes, I understand this is supposed to be a satire but I really had a hard time understanding the need to hide intelligence. I thought there would be some development or awareness, so I hung in there. But after 2 hours, I gave up. I have no use for characters who have no real compassion for others despite their faults. Hello, people! Humans are not perfect but should be admired for some positive aspect of their character.
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