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 loved this book. So thought provoking and you instantly care about the characters. I listened to it twice to absorb all the beautiful details and observations about life. A definite read!
I worked hard to finish. But when I did, it was worth it.
I persisted with this book for about a third of its length as I thought it MUST surely improve and engage me, but it didn't. The reviewer who said that it's like being trapped in a corner with a first-year philosophy student hit the nail on the head. I just wanted to escape!
This tale of two women--or, rather, a woman and a girl--is indeed masterful. Each is not as she might appear on the surface, and the appreciation each has for the world in which she finds herself is wry and delightful. Fascinating to see the apparently dumpy concierge finally showing her true plumage as an unusual romance comes her way, while the child finds herself finally coming to appreciate the life given her as she finds herself caught up in her new friend's life.
Seeing these two each blossoming in the heart of a Parisian apartment complex is indeed a joy.
I know this book never would have never held my attention had I read it myself. The two narrators really brought it to life for me. Elegance of a Hedgehog is an engaging and often-times humorous story about misfits finding one another and trying to make not only sense of, but peace with the world that they live in. There are a few flaws (some of the characters' philosophical musings are bone dry), but overall the story really held my interest.
Barbara Rosenblat has a huge following for her audiobook reading. But in this case she actually spoiled the book immensely for me. Her interpretation of Rene didn't come close to what I felt when I originally read the book. It was over the top and melodramatic. It seemed that she was more interested in her performance than the content or character. Kinda like many people who drag out the singing of the national anthem to show off their voice.
Sadly it seems that this a trend. Having listened to books for more than 20 years I can see it. At first it was a revelation when readers put some drama like an actor into the reading. But it has gone way beyond that. Also some of the readers are playing the same character no matter what book they are reading.
I very rarely stop listening before I finish but I just couldn't go on. Especially since this is such a lovely & deep book.
I was at 5-stars all around for this book right up until the last 20 minutes, during which the author and I had a significant difference of opinions about what should happen next!
The book is very charming, with great humor, characters, and narration. There are moments of Barbara Rosenblat's delivery that are both hilarious and timeless.
Alas, the ending doesn't work for me, but the rest of the book was lovely.
I have no idea. I tried to like it....it was a chore to read even half of this book. I would not recommend it to anyone I know.
I'm not sure what genre this falls under.
Barbara--competent, believable, well-done; Cassandra--annoying, irritating, competent in reading the material.
Great disappointment--from the reviews I read and the sample I listened to I really thought I would like this book. The little girl made me angry. It made me sad that I wasted five dollars on this book...plus four hours of my life....gone.
Don't waste your money.
Tangential, eclectic, avid listener... favorite book is the one currently in ear.
Put me to sleep repeatedly as I started the book... only Moby Dick has worked better. I wondered how it had ever been published considering the initial lack of plot and endless mental tangents. The characters however, do grow on you and I stayed up late in order to finish the charming and unexpected 2nd part. Came away with some delightful insights. Those who might find even more joy in the book would be lovers of: Russian literature, still life paintings, Japanese cuisine, complex minds, tea and of course, all things French.
The book is technically very good; the translation is smooth and readable. The narration is more than adequate. THE HOWEVER and SPOILER: I do not want misanthropy in my books and the final chapters read, to me, more of a 'f*** you' than anything else. I do not recommend the book to people I care about and will certainly never read this particular author again. As always, this is a subjective, emotional response to the book which says as much about me as it does the author. And it is the mark of a well crafted book, that ability to evoke a strong emotional response, n'est pas?
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