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)
This story grew on me the more I listened. You have to some patience, however, since most for most of the story you are listening to the two main characters talking to themselves - thinking out loud. Both characters are amazingly smart and insightful - the young girl preternatually so. A touching but improbable ending is a bit of a disappointment. Fun if you enjoy learning more about class struggles in France.
This book was chosen as our November read in my book club. After 3 tries, I gave up reading it, just could not get into it. After some grief by the other members, I decided to just purchase it and try with the audio version. Very happy I did. From the first minute of listening to Barbara Rosenblat I was hooked. When it switch over to Casandra Morris, the book really came to life. I think the book lost a little of its interpretation in the translation from French to English, and then again to the audio, but was still a very good read. I try not to analize books to death and just appreciate the story for what it is. I found it very sweet and touching, the 3 main characters very endearing and left me with a hope that they would continue their friendship. Well worth it, enjoyed it very much.
Listen to about four audio books a months. Never without one.
The summary of this book had potential. The audible reviews I read were good but boy was I mislead. I didn't like this book. I'm just not intellectual enough. I don't like philosophy and 45% of this book is philosophy. 15" rambling on the meaning of a kitchen table. Pretentious people. Trick ending. Good narration but would have been better if they had French accents as it takes place in Paris. Not for my average mind.
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!
I should probably blame myself and my high expectations, but this was a big disappointment:
I found no literary value in the book - the characters are stereotypes. Both protagonists didn't draw empathy of any kind, and weren't interesting enough to either captivate or challenge.
The ideas are superficial - mass pseudo- philosophy for teenagers, and they are brought into the story line in the most simplistic manner.
A book that aspires to bring to life protagonists of exceptional intelligence should be deeper and more convincing.
I had to keep rewinding this one because it would spark so many tangential trains of thought. Now, I almost sat the book down for that reason because initially I thought I was bored with it. Lofty language and haughty description almost turned me completely off, and then... when I decided not to give up; to stop fighting the urge to drift, I realized I wasn't rewinding because I'd turned out, but so I didn't miss anything. And that is the power of extraordinary literature. I will definitely listen again. It's not an "easy read", but it will elevate your thinking and evolve with you (I'm sure I'll gleam something more or different next time) if you let it. Love this book!
I would not even try to compare this book with another. It stands alone as a most delightful escape. The use of language, the story, the laughter and the tears. Amazing, wonderful. Thank you for this book!
The use of the comma. Incredible.
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.
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