the elegance of the hedgehog – muriel barbery

The Elegance of the Hedgehog

This book was a choice of the Walthamstow Book Club for last month, but I have been a little slack in posting recently!

It has been translated from the original French and is set in modern-day Paris, in a very exclusive, grand and elegant apartment building full of rich, sophisticated tennants.

One of these tennants is Paloma, who is 12 years old, lives with her parents and older sister, doesn’t like any of them really, is extremely intelligent and is determined to burn her apartment down with herself inside before her 13th birthday.

Renee is the building’s concierge – a faceless ‘worker’ to the building’s tennants – carrying out the necessary tasks without question or complaint as someone of her position should.  however, Renee is actually very intellectual and loves teh finer things in life, although she feels this must be kept secret from those that she ‘services.

It’s been about 3 weeks since we discussed this book, and I have to admit that although I enjoyed it at face value, the more we discussed it, the less impressed I was with it – and now, going back over the main lines of the story, I feel even less inclined towards it!

It was beautifully written (and wonderfully translated by Alison Anderson) and he characters were very well ‘described’.  However, they still managed to feel like caricatures to me. I never really understood WHY Renee didn’t want anyone to know what she was really like – and Paloma just annoyed the hell out of me. She was meant to be TWELVE – Ok, she was a bit maudlin and very intelligent, but she was just a little girl.  I have a 12 year old girl (nearly) and there was not a single childlike characteristic or behaviour in Paloma!

The ending was also far too fast and (in my opinion) unnecessary.  I just didn’t get it. I didn’t understand the need to end the book in that way, because I felt that the story wasn’t actually finished.  There were fare too many questions left unanswered, and I am just screwing my face up in puzzlement recalling it now. NOT a good sign! (Or a good look for me.)

I liked the dogs though – the dogs were great – they were so…French!

So, if you want a non-trashy read that although beautifully crafted and relatively literary is still quite light, and you enjoy playing “What happened next?”, then this could well be the book for you.

UPDATE:  Have just found out that this has been made into a film and she be released in the UK next month – – some of us in the Book Club are thinking of going to see it!

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