Monday, December 19, 2011

The Elegance of the Hedgehog; Muriel Barbery


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)
Source: Library
Date Completed: 12/17/2011 
Rating: 5/5
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.

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

30 comments:

  1. I am reading this right now, and I absolutely love it as well. I'll have my review up next week, to finish the Europa 2011 Challenge!

    ReplyDelete
  2. So glad to see you loved this one, as a co-worker recently gave me her copy. She told me she thought it was "odd" so I didn't know what to expect. Great review!

    ReplyDelete
  3. You have totally sold me on this one. I've read so many differing views that I basically discarded the notion of reading it, until now!

    ReplyDelete
  4. I really loved the character of Renee. She seemed so anyone I'd read before.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Everyone says this one starts out slow. I have to admit I'm a little intimidated by it - I'm afraid I'm not smart enough for it.

    ReplyDelete
  6. I've heard such good things about this book -- I bought it while traveling last month but haven't gotten around to it -- yet. Can't wait to start it -- you've got me all excited again!

    ReplyDelete
  7. I've had this on my tbr list for a while. I'm hoping to read it in 2012.

    ReplyDelete
  8. I loved this book, I read it in French a few years ago and a film came out of it. I hope to see it soon.

    ReplyDelete
  9. I enjoyed this book too, although read it awhile ago so have forgotten many of the details. Thanks for the reminder.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Lovely review! This sounds like my kind of book (I'm surprised I haven't read it yet!).

    ReplyDelete
  11. Glad you liked it - I also rated it a 5 and as one of the best books I read that year.

    ReplyDelete
  12. I have heard so many great things about this book! I really want to read it - even more after reading your review. I love novels with a philosophical bent...even more if they're about the meaning of life.

    Sue

    ReplyDelete
  13. I read this one in book form and I liked it a lot, until the ending!

    ReplyDelete
  14. I've seen many people like this book but you seem to LOVE it. I'll have to check it out. Sounds like a good one for audio too.

    ReplyDelete
  15. I really must read this... It has been on my wish list forever!

    ReplyDelete
  16. A friend of mine loved the audio but also said it had a slow start. I'll probably listen to it at some point. Loved your review, Diane!

    ReplyDelete
  17. Hah! I'm laughing at Kathy's comment, because that's so how I felt after I finished.

    ReplyDelete
  18. This is one of those books that I keep meaning to read! Must pull it off my shelves!

    ReplyDelete
  19. I will have to dig this one out of the stack and get to it soon! It sounds like a great read, and one that I would really enjoy. I love books that have a subtle philosophical bent. This was a great review, and has inspired me to pick this one up in the new year!

    ReplyDelete
  20. What a wonderful review, Diane! Thank you!
    I'm so happy you loved this book. I have a copy on my shelf and have been looking forward to reading it - I have read a few chapters but had to put it down for some reviews. Although those chapters were a bit slow, I also found them intriguing and I liked the characters.

    My husband picked it up then and he really enjoyed it which also excited me since he is picky and particularly critical about fiction.

    This also sounds like a book I could use right now - I want the warm, fuzzy hopeful feeling you got from the book and I'm really looking forward to the beauty expressed - and I love books that give me something to really think about!

    ReplyDelete
  21. I'm so glad to hear you loved this one. I have it on my 2012 TBR and am looking forward to it even more now!

    ReplyDelete
  22. this book sounds really good. nice review.

    ReplyDelete
  23. I'm assuming Paloma does not kill herself?
    I so often run away from popular books but your review makes me want to read this. I also heard the movie is good.

    ReplyDelete
  24. I just started the audio this morning! So glad to see you gave this a 5/5. :)

    ReplyDelete
  25. This is one of my favorite books of all time. Because of it, I was introduced to the Japanese filmmaker Yasujiru Ozu's wonderful works. Have been an Ozu fan since.

    Arti

    ReplyDelete
  26. I loved this, too! Was very glad my daughter had a print copy so I could go back and reread a few passages. Great review, Diane.

    ReplyDelete
  27. I loved this book when I read it a few years ago, but I really didn't like the ending.

    ReplyDelete
  28. I listened to the audio too and I loved the two performances. The story itself was a bit too philisophical for me, but the end totally blew me away!

    ReplyDelete
  29. I enjoyed it very much, as well as the movie, excellent! see my review with link to movie trailer and my reaction to the movie: http://wordsandpeace.wordpress.com/2010/10/19/the-elegance-of-the-hedgehog/

    ReplyDelete
  30. I've read half of this book. I just read bits at a time but I enjoy it.

    ReplyDelete

Thanks for taking the time to visit and double thanks for any comments. If you ask a question in your comments, I will try to reply to it here, or by email if your settings allow me to do so. Thank again for visiting.