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 do recommend this book. The characters are well drawn and the setting is vivid. It is easy to listen. The task of the three protagonists is, I'd say, to learn to reveal themselves and while they are not sweet or charming exactly, the result is a bitter-sweet and charming tale.
Possibly the ending.
Couldn't read the book, but enjoyed the character that the performances audio gave it.
The readers made the story transform my world.
I am in the middle of Chapter 3, and although I found the musings of the concierge interesting and intriguing at first, listening to her micro analysis of everything in her life - from the placement of a comma to the death of her spouse, is exhausting. And her disdain for the "upper classes" is tiresome. She definitely needs a hobby. I will put the book aside and try again, because I do enjoy the other characters.
This was a good one to listen to because of the French words and expressions. Barbara Rosenblat was at her best. Cassandrea Morris had a great English accent and yet her French sounded convincing to me.
A Sweet story with good thoughts about life and people. They would be philosophizing and then say something very earthy which was quite out of place and very funny. I liked the characters and the ending was surprising and poignant.
An enjoyable listen. It would have been better if I how know more about philosophy.
It felt as if I was reading someones thoughts rather than listening to a story, the plot unfolded slowly but I found it to be very intricate.
The Japanese man and his acceptance of those around him without prejudice.
The end of the story, I did not expect it.
A wonderful story, well worth reading or listening to.
Yes, I would listen to this story again. There is so much going on that I would get lots out of a second time.
I loved the Japanese neighbor.
I don't think so.
Oh, it made me so sad but in a good way.
Female, love a good mystery, Victorian English literature and love to laugh (Dickens, Austen, Trollepe, Wodehouse, Gaskell, Elliot
This was a nice story, but somehow, fell a little flat. I couldn't quite grasp the way this character was so much in her shell (even after it was explained).
If you find yourself sometimes pondering about the meaning and purpose of life and you have a sense of humor, then this book is for you.
I fell in love with the characters in this book. I was eager to hear how the story went on, and in the same time I was captured by the character's everyday life thoughts about the meaning and purpose of life. There was really never a dull or an uninteresting moment.
This is a very good example of when a narration brings a very good book to an even higher level. I really enjoyed listening to the narrators and the characters felt very real to me. I'm very glad I bought the audio version of this one, even though the story can probably very well stand on its own.
Property manager, Mom of 4 (almost grown), interested in historical novels, knitting, skiing, entertaining. I share with my husband who likes the mysteries and thrillers.
Very unresolved. Nice, interesting story, but no ending. The story begins to develop and with the development of the characters, the listener expects some type of interesting ending, but the story ends abruptly.
A sweet book about clear-seeing, i.e. seeing what is really in front of you whether beautiful or ugly, rather than what you want to see. It's also about a bunch of other things: class relations, art, philosophy, snobbery, meaning vs. meaninglessness, what true intelligence is, (and what is it good for?), and how people sometimes prevent themselves from finding true happiness.
All this sounds like a warm-fuzzy wrapped in a personal affirmation scented with camellias and delivered with sprinkly cupcakes to your frontdoor with a copy of Eat Pray Love, right? But the book cleverly counterbalances this with a healthy dose of skepticism and misanthropy.
The conclusions are still too easy/obvious sometimes, but I would rather a book risk the dangers of sentimentalism than sit comfortably on its sanitized throne of intelligent and secure discourse.
There is very little plot, but instead we get a series of monologues, philosophical asides and observations from two of the main characters. One is an elderly concierge, and the other is a precocious 12 year old girl. Both belong to that class of human beings that most other human beings ignore: they are invisible in the grand scheme of things. Yet under the surface, they live rich and imaginative lives.
I would say that there is a little bit too much black and white in this novel, though. I felt like the characters you were supposed to root for were a little too blameless and noble in their intentions, and the ones who were shallow ignoramuses were just that.
Especially true of this is the character of Kakuro Ozu, who is like some kind of angel of Eastern wisdom and exoticism meets Western intelligence and sophistication, without a blemish in sight. Don't get me wrong, I really liked the guy, but he didn't seem very real to me.
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