Title: The Elegance of the Hedgehog
Author: Muriel Barbery
Publication Year: 2009
Publisher: Highbridge Audio
Edition: audio and eBook
Reader: Barbara Rosenblat and Cassandra Morris (very good)
Date Completed: 12/17/2011
Recommend: yes (loved it)
A story which started out slow, but quickly changed to something wonderful. It's a novel that ultimately left me with a warm, fuzzy, hopeful feeling -- I loved this book! The central theme of the story explores whether, " life has meaning".
The story is told from the POV of (2) central characters: Madame Renee Michel, is a 50-something widow, and, a concierge for 27-years, of a ritzy apartment building in Paris, where the story takes place. She's very bright (but doesn't show it), has a prickly personality, a poor self-image, yet she is a woman with depth: she finds beauty in flowers, especially the Camellia. She has a love of the simple lives led by the Japanese people, the arts and great literature. She isn't fond of the stuffy people she encounters day in and day out in her job as concierge. She lives a somewhat solitary existence with her cat, Leo (after Tolstoy), and views herself as insignificant.
Paloma Josse, is a 12 year-old, super smart wiz kid. She's extremely introspective, and lives in the same building with her her wealthy parents: a politician father and clueless snobby mother, as well as an older sister who is studying at the Sorbonne. She detests her family and all that they find important. Paloma is a keen observer who sees the world and life as lacking any meaning, and as a result she has vowed to kill herself before her 13th birthday. She's very philosophical, and has decided to keep a notebook which she calls "Profound Thoughts". Paloma and Renee have much in common, although neither realize it. They both love jasmine tea and all things Japanese. In fact Renee thinks, if she had a daughter she would be just like Paloma. Paloma, in turn, thinks Renee, has "the elegance of a hedgehog".
Monsieur Kakuro Ozu is one of the wealthy residents who moves into the same building. He's a Japanese film maker; a distinguished, gentle and kind man who appreciates the arts. He is an extremely keen observor of human behavior, and it isn't long before he is able to ferret out the fact that there is more to Renee and Paloma than what their cool exterior reveals. Before long the three develop a strong friendship, and are enmeshed in discussions of life's ironies and absurdities, which help each work through their issues.
I loved this book! I found myself not wanting it to end. The audio book was beautiful, but I also ended up picking up the print version as there was so much beauty expressed, that I wanted to experience it in print as well. The Elegance of the Hedgehog is truly a beautiful novel about life, and about looking for the beauty in every person you meet. It gave me so much to think about. It's not the type of story with lots of action, it more philisophical, but don't let that scare you. It's a wonderful character study that examines not only what makes the main characters tick, but it is also a deep exploration of all that surrounds us in the world we live in.