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)
Wow. It's a lot of rambling and inner dialogue about philosophy, the burden of being smart and other musings. It's not a traditional story so listen carefully to the sample and you will see what you are getting.
This magical book is beautifully realised by two narrators - one the concierge of a salubrious Paris apartment building, the other the young daughter of one of the wealthy residents. The result is an intriguing and delightful audio book that brings to life a story that is both vivid and real, full of humanity, philosophy and humour. I can't remember the last time a book made me laugh out loud quite so noisily, nor weep quite so deeply. Exquisite!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
"Elegance of the Hedgehog"
Lovely book but it's set in Paris, so why not have French readers, instead we have the most awful screechy voiced American child that ruined the story - ugh.
Gosh this is marvelous. Great performances doing justice to a beautiful, moving story. French, philosophical, elegant, funny and inspiring. Hope it works for you too.
"Wonderful wonderful book"
This book came highly recommended and it exceeded my high expectations.
The story went right into me and I was very moved by it.
Yes, it is a great book.
The book is fabulous - it was read abysmally
Someone who can do a French accent
"Cannot have enough of it!"
There are books we enjoy, but also ones that we learn from and re-discover time after time.
I have this book in print, bought the film and also in audio format. Never got bored of it and always want to read some parts over and over again.
Wonderfully narrated, The Elegance of the Hedgehog took my breath away. Funny, charming, sad & poignant all at once. The story is simple but profound and the characters are delectable.
"Beware the good reviews"
Disappointing. Wasn't able to finish this book. Both the main characters a difficult to like and get quite irritating at times. The story feels like it meanders on and on without any purpose apart from showing that the author has read widely and understands difficult philosophical concepts. Might just be me (I'm not too bright!) but I just like a good story. I didn't think this was.
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