I stumbled upon this book as a recommendation from my mom who, like myself, enjoys listening to audio books. And here I must confess that a couple of the books that I’ve reviewed are in fact books that I have listened to, but since it takes longer for me to listen to a book than it does for me to read it I consider this as fair play in regards to my summer reading challenge.
This particular book is a fantastic read. And contrary to the title, it has nothing whatsoever to do with hedgehogs. It’s also not very fast in any way and a sizeable portion of the book is dedicated to philosophical monologues. Though they can be a bother to some, these internal philosophical discourses are fascinating, and regardless of your belief on the matters discussed they provide profound insight into human nature while creating a superb foundation for the rest of the story
Following the daily lives of two characters: Renee and Paloma, The Elegance of the Hedgehog attempts to bring light to the strengths and faults of the human condition. Renee is a middle-aged concierge who works for a group of wealthy families and bears witness to their overindulgent and belligerent lives. Choosing to show everyone what they expect to see, Renee appears as a fat, unintelligent, and belligerent old woman. Twelve-year old Paloma is a daughter to one of the families living in the apartments where Renee works. She is a genius who is planning to commit suicide on her thirteenth birthday. But when a Japanese man moves into their apartment complex, both Renee and Paloma meet someone for the first time who can see through their attempts to hide their true nature and who shows them that there is something more to life than what society has laid out before them.
Taking place in modern day France, the culture is exquisitely portrayed and is effectively utilized as a means to analyze human nature. One could say that that is the purpose of the book. All the interactions and scenes are observed through the critical perspective of one of the protagonists, and they do not edit or downplay anything that they experience. Such raw observations are often comical, but in this book they go beyond that. Yes they are humorous at times, but they are also edifying and enlightening. They serve as lenses for the reader to view the world in a different way. The character development is intriguing; Paloma’s accounts are written in journal style while Renee is more of a first person dialogue. The fourth wall is breeched on multiple occasions, mostly by Paloma due to her style of narrative, but not exclusively. None of it is done in an improper sense and I can say that, as one who dislikes when this tool is used incorrectly, Muriel Barberry never annoyed me with the way she chose to transcribe any scene in this book.
As a book that is praised for it’s approach towards philosophy I believe it to have lived up to my expectations. I was sometimes lost in the logistical flow, but after backtracking occasionally I was able to understand the direction of the characters’ thoughts even if I didn’t always agree with them.
For those who enjoy a slow book this would be an excellent choice. There is no action, sex, or much of what is decreed popular in the eyes of the general public nowadays. This is an excellent book for anyone who wants to take a step into the lives of two very different women who embody many of the characteristics found in each of us today. If you are looking for a book that will change the way you see the world, then this is an excellent book to explore.