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 would not have had the patience to read this book with my eyes. I used it as a companion for pulling weeds and I must report that the garden and I are both the better for it. It was a very good listen. I'll not forget these characters anytime soon.
This is an absolutely charming and wonderful book that I'll be recommending to lots of people. It is told in the first person by two narrators, both of whom are very intelligent intellectuals who are constantly evaluating the psychological and philosophical nuances of everything. While that sounds like it could be unbelievable dull, it isn't. I laughed so hard at one point, I had to stop the recording.
Cassandra Morris is very good, but Barbara Rosenblatt gives an award winning performance. It is one of the best narrations I have heard not just from Rosenblatt, but from anyone.
Delightful rendering of a wonderful set of characters. Provocative in its reflection of literature, art and the meaning of life. Fun, though, and not too heavy. Full of fantastic language even though a translated work. In fact, I have ordered a print copy to review in addition to this pleasant listen.
I'll admit at first I was frustrated by The Elegance of Hedgehogs. The plot took a long time developing and the two main characters spent a lot of time pontificating on heavy themes. I love philosophy as reflected by fiction, but I felt the author spent much too much time on heady intellectual theories and not nearly enough time in the forward action of the story. However this was all absolved as I learned to understand them. One is an older woman in her 50s, a concierge in a rich apartment building who has been stunted by class expectations of her childhood and tries to hide the fact that she is an intellectual so as not be seen as putting on "airs". The other is a 12 year old girl of parents who pretend to have socialist aspirations but are really bourgeois, aloof and unfeeling. The girl is of extraordinary intelligence and can see through the facades maintained by her parents, older sister and adult society at large. She is disenchanted with the idea of growing up and living a "fish bowl" existence. Thus she has resolved to kill herself on her 13th birthday. As the story progressed I realized that to truly understand these characters and the boxes they put themselves it was important for the reader to endure the various wonderings, profound thoughts and journal exaltations, otherwise the resolution when they discover that their fates are not predetermined would not have been nearly as satisfying. It is an all together "elegant" novel filled with minute perceptions and sensory satisfactions.
Although it took a bit of time, perhaps one hour of listening, to "get into" the personalities of the story, I found this to be a completely beautiful and thought-provoking novel. Barbara Rosenblat is a genius storyteller. She is funny, sublime, and absolutely perfect in her role. Honestly, this is one of the best books I have ever had the pleasure of reading (listening) and I highly recommend it. It is a literature that makes you think about it for days as well as cry when you think about the characters. If I could give this 6 stars, I would!!!
If you read the reviews here you will notice a strong divide between lovers and haters of this book. I find myself in the odd position of agreeing with both of these extreme ends of the review spectrum. On one hand I thought the first part of the book was lecturing and posing in tone and that the narrators mispronounced many words. Then as the book progressed the whole feeling changed and I found myself really liking the story and thinking the narrators were good.
I know this isn't much of a help if you are trying to decide on whether or not to try the book. I'm afraid that I am of two minds and will have to give it all three stars and stand right in the middle. Parts of the book and narration are excellent and deserve 5 stars and parts are just dreadful. I will say that in the end I was glad I gave it a try and stuck with it, but I'm also glad the book was on sale and that I didn't spend a credit.
I focus on fiction, sci-fi, fantasy, science, history, politics and read a lot. I try to review everything I read.
I liked this book quite a bit. The book, the story, and the characters are all simple, yet satisfying. The writing and language are superior. The meaning was, in my opinion, the key and was not overt. This seems to lead to strong feelings, both positive and negative about this book. I thoroughly enjoyed the narration and the humor, but mostly I enjoyed the spirit.
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 did not want to like this book, selected by book club. 15 minutes into it, I was hooked - it made me laugh and cry. I wanted to know these characters more and will listen to this audiobook again and again.
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 fabulous - it was read abysmally
Someone who can do a French accent
"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.
"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.
"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.
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.
"First book I've ever left unfinished"
I have tried this book over and over again, not willing to admit I couldn't finish it but in the end I gave up, not even halfway through. The story did not grip me at all and the narrator, especially the concierge, annoyed me intensely. It's all so presumptuous. I feel disappointed that I'll probably never know the story that others seem to like so much but reading - or trying to read- this book was nothing short of a burden.
"A great book, well worth it"
Just a great book from start to finish with interesting characters and storyline, kept me interested all the way through. I would suggest the others by Barbery too.
"Such a pity you couldn't have found French narrators"
The story is excellent and I really enjoyed it, insightful with out being dogmatic. The narration was not bad but the actors don't speak French . It was a little incongruous to listen to critique of the different character's accents in American. Bilingual actors who would really improve this story.
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.
"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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