by Muriel Barbery

Reviewer Rating:
4

Review

The hedgehog is "covered in quills, a real fortress...a deceptively indolent little creature, fiercely solitary - and terribly elegant." So says the precocious twelve year old Paloma Josse in reference to her building's concierge, a middle-aged nobody named Renee Michel, though the sentiment could just as easily refer to her.

Renee lives a double life: to the outside world she is the stereotypical Parisian concierge who eats hearty, working class meals and spends her days watching mindless TV which she is only grudgingly willing to be pulled away from to attend her duties; in her private life, Renee is an ambitious autodidact who devours anything she can get her hands on in relation to literature, art, philosophy, music, and Japanese cinema. She strives for "excellence born of constraint" in her learning and her daily life.

As for Paloma? Already disgusted by everything the upper class world of adulthood has to offer her, she's planning to kill herself on her thirteenth birthday in a fiery blaze meant to wake her family up to what's really important in life. It is not until both she and Renee separately meet the building's new tenant, Kakuro Ozu, that they realize the world around them is not as terrible and superficial as they thought.

Muriel Barbery's The Elegance of the Hedgehog carefully toes the line between pretension and philosophical illumination. In the audiobook version, Barbara Rosenblatt impeccably portrays Renee's sardonic reflections on her own life and those of the people around her, while Cassandra Morris perfectly captures the bratty self-importance of Paloma's desperate search for hope.

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