I had the strangest reaction to The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery. I admired the virtuosity of the writing and the characters interested me, but they were so aloof that I never got to like them. I would read the book then put it down for a few days and pick it up again. It wasn’t a chore to read, but it wasn’t compelling either.
The novel alternates between the concierge Renée’s narration about her life in an upscale Parisian apartment building and the musings of a precocious 12 year old girl named Paloma who resides there. Though at different ends of the socio-economic scale. both characters are acutely perceptive and intelligent. They share a disdain for the upper class dolts whom populate the building. The book is very class conscious and I’m not sure to what end. I did want to tell Paloma and Renée to get over themselves.
The two characters’ lives converge when an elegant Japanese man moves into the building and the three realize they are kindred spirits. I enjoyed the references to Ozu films and Japanese culture, but also shook my head in disbelief when at the story’s climax the Japanese man imparts some psychological wisdom to Renée. It just didn’t ring true at all.
The ending comes out from nowhere. Very Deux ex machina. I rolled my eyes as I read it. Though the plot and characters weren’t well developed, the style and little social insights the characters have are entertaining enough.
I wouldn’t recommend it and I wouldn’t reread it, but I don’t regret reading The Elegance of the Hedgehog.
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