The Elegance of the Hedgehog

I finished The Elegance of the Hedgehog, by Muriel Barbery, sometime last week and I completely loved it.

Renee (Madame Michel) is the concierge of an upscale apartment building in France – she is extraordinarily intelligent, emotionally advanced, thoughtful to a fault, well-read, and well-versed in all things artistic, philosophical, and intellectual, but she hides all of this from the world due to a long-held secret and a deep-seated fear of upsetting the social status quo. Meanwhile, privileged and precocious 12-year-old Paloma Josse lives upstairs – like Renee, she has been blessed with a great capacity for compassion and a hunger for knowledge, and also like Renee, she prefers to hide these facts from others and slip through life as unnoticed as possible. Enter Kakuro Ozu, a distinguished gentleman from Japan, who moves into the building and almost immediately sets about to the task of drawing both Renee and Paloma out of their shells and towards one another, as he recognizes the true nature of each and the kindred spirit that connects them.

I have no complaints or criticisms at all. The plot was subtle to start but exponentially grew in strength (I was near tears towards the end), while the prose was consistently beautiful throughout. The characters were fantastic but ultimately believable and very easy to identify and empathize with, and the narration (I listened to it on CD) was extraordinary – it was an excellent example of true voice acting, especially on the part of Barbara Rosenblat, who narrated Renee’s sections. Listen to it, or read it, or have it read to you – but you really ought to experience it for yourself at your earliest convenience.

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