Monday, December 8, 2008

Book Review: The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery

Available in paperback, translated from French, $15.00.

This is a surprising, enchanting love story about a curmudgeonly concierge, a precocious, suicidal teenager, and a wealthy Japanese man who live in the same apartment building in Paris. It’s about all the big things in life: our search for beauty, meaning and love; our deep human longing for art, music, literature and philosophy. But the magic of the book is revealed when these flawed, lonely people learn how to recognize and respond to this longing in each other.

The story starts out slowly, with a couple of irritating chapters that might make you feel impatient or stupid or both, as if the author is just showing off, but then the story blossoms and the characters become absolutely irresistible.

If you’ve ever been struck by a perfect line of Tolstoy’s prose, brought to tears by a beautiful Vermeer painting (okay, not tears - but maybe you were just a little "verklempt"?), or deeply bothered by some nitwit’s bad grammar, then you must read this book and get to know the endearing little hedgehog of a concierge named Renee. Then, like me, you’ll be passing the book on to friends, insisting that they take the time to enjoy this elegant little story.

My favorite things: "happy families are all alike," camellias on the moss, synchronized diving, yellow carpeting, pure kindness. Sue, how 'bout you?


  1. This story sounds amazing, and quite appropriate since I'm going to be living in Paris next summer for almost two months! :)

  2. is this book appropriate for middle schoolers, approximately ages 11-14?

  3. Dear Anonymous: I probably wouldn't recommend it for middle schoolers, but rather mature high schoolers and adults. It addresses suicide and some fairly complicated philosophical issues. One of my favorite books for strong middle school readers is The Book Thief, an intense but extremely thoughtful historical novel about children in the German Holocaust.


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