Monday, December 28, 2009

The Elegance of the Hedgehog - Muriel Barbary

Also reviewed by Heather.

Summary: We are in the center of Paris, in an elegant apartment building inhabited by bourgeois families. Renée, the concierge, is witness to the lavish but vacuous lives of her numerous employers. Outwardly she conforms to every stereotype of the concierge: fat, cantankerous, addicted to television. Yet, unbeknownst to her employers, Renée is a cultured autodidact who adores art, philosophy, music, and Japanese culture. With humor and intelligence she scrutinizes the lives of the building's tenants, who for their part are barely aware of her existence.

Then there's Paloma, a 12-year-old genius. She is the daughter of a tedious parliamentarian, a talented and startlingly lucid child who has decided to end her life on the 16th of June, her thirteenth birthday. Until then she will continue behaving as everyone expects her to behave: a mediocre pre-teen high on adolescent subculture, a good but not an outstanding student, an obedient if obstinate daughter. (Summary taken from

My Review: If ever there was a book club I hated missing it was the one where we discussed this book. The content of the book was ripe with discussion topics. Class, potential and mediocrity, intelligence, fear, Art, Beauty, culture. Also up for discussion is the writing style as the interesting use of two narrators with above average intelligence begs the question "is what they say intelligent and grammatically correct?? Finally, there is the plot, and the characters themselves, to discuss.

I'd deem this a excellent book club book (which as I consider it is probably one of my highest recommendations) simply because it wasn't written to be. It lacked some of the bubbly feel good nature of the books that land solidly on certain "book club" lists and it avoided being overly emotional in a way that sucks you in and then leaves you feeling (the dreaded word) manipulated.

Ah yes - the ending...well, it has a twist. But it didn't effect the book for me. The point of the story was not for A to lead to B to lead to C, the point was an examination of the above listed concepts. So regardless of the plot I was satisfied by the discussion within the pages.

Finally, lest the above comments sound stuffy and snooty, this book danced with humor, emotion, and moments that were enjoyably school girl-ish (the boy asks the girl out, their first date, etc.).

My Rating: Ugh...4.5 or 5? I can't decide...4.75 but I'm rounding up in the categories listing.

Sum it up: The best book club in Massachusetts gives this book two thumbs up.


D Swizzle said...

Love your review. Very witty :)

Sweet Em said...

Well Dannie, I just browsed through a few of your blogs and based on that, I'm flattered you think so!

Lisa said...

I struggled with the entire first half of this book and came so close to putting it down. But that second half was so much better for me.


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