Book Review: The Elegance of the Hedgehog

By Muriel Barbery, translated from the French by Allison Anderson

It is January 1, 2009, and I just finished my first book of the year. Does it count if I started the book last year? I think so.

My binary classification of things divides all things into one of two camps: love or hate (so basic). But I loved this book. The title is what I noticed first: The Elegance of the Hedgehog. What does that mean? Have you ever seen a hedgehog? My friend Loni had one. It was the cutest thing. They would take it on walks in the sand. It died. So what I knew of hedgehogs was and that they are cute, small, and prickly. They have a lot going for them but can be hard to handle.

The main protagonist of the book can be readily recognized as the hedgehog of the book. The 54-year-old concierge is a super genius, who left school at age 12. She has worked in her Parisian eight unit apartment building for twenty years, hiding all along her intelligence. The other story told in the book is about a 12-year-old little girl who is also a super genius. She is trying to find her way in the world.

Both character’s keen observations about life, class, and grammar are delightful to read and enjoyable to contemplate afterwards. Can you change your class? What does class mean? How annoying is the improper use of a comma? Aren’t we all just the same, seeking to be noticed by our fellow man?

This is one of those books that you don’t want to end. As I kept reading I kept wondering how on earth the author was going to finish the book in the few pages left.

Without giving the story away, let me say that the book inspired a spirited emotional response from me at the end.

The book does slow a bit during the in-depth meditations on philosophy, but don’t let that keep you from getting the book. Get ahead of the curve: read the Oprah book before it is an Oprah book.


Loni Gardner said...

Poor Sonic, our hedgehog. Seems he died of a worm overdose. He loved worms-grubs, as most insectivores would. He had a good, but short, life. We lived on Folly Beach one year and would take him to the beach for strolls in the sand--not too often, but he seemed to like it. Hedgehogs sleep most of the time. They are fun to feed through. Once we gave Sonic a left over pork chop. He loved it and would sleep with his head on the pork chop, guarding it as he nibbled casually throughout the day. Hedgehogs can be quite prickly, so we would trim the tip of his spikes with the scissors--it doesn't hurt and is like trimming fingernails. Anyway, an interesting pet!

SAHM said...

You've intrigued me! I will have to check and see if our library carries this one.