The Elegance of a Hedgehog

RATING


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The Elegance of a Hedgehog Book Review

The Elegance of a Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery is a philosophical meditation on life, beauty and happiness, led by a 12 year-old girl. From the outset we know that our protagonist, Paloma, is smarter than everyone else she knows (because she confesses this to the reader), and is underwhelmed by what her life is, living in an upscale building and the daughter of a political leader. She is determined to find beauty in her life before her 13th birthday, and to keep her intelligence muffled as to fly under everyone’s radar.

The book also follows Renee, the building’s caretaker. She, too, is painfully intelligent, but is determined to hide it from everyone else in the building lest someone discover that she is entirely overqualified to be a building manager. The two characters’ paths cross in a meaningful way around the time that a new person moves into the building and shakes everything up just enough to keep the plot of the book moving forward.

Both characters shrewdly observe the world around them, and see people for their hypocrisy and faults. Meanwhile, Pamola discovers beauty in the most unlikely of spaces, and there are long meditations on the tiniest of life’s details.

Some of the book refers to writers and philosophers that this reader hadn’t heard of, but a quick Google search answered most questions. There are also moments when the plot can lag, but the beauty of this book is in the prose and in the meditations: the plot primarily serves to tee up the next meditation, not  necessarily to entice the reader with unexpected twists and turns.

That said, stick with it until the very end. There’s a twist that is shocking, and leads to a some very moving pages of prose.

Overall, the prose itself can be a bit erudite, but that is also the essence of the character that is speaking.  It can be a bit intimidating for the reader, but know this: it’s okay if you don’t understand every sentence or every paragraph. No one is going to test you. The payout of the book is worth a few pages of confusion.

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