The Elegance of the Hedgehog

Muriel Barbery
Europa Editions

“Gently satirical, exceptionally winning and inevitably bittersweet.” says The Washington Post

my 10 favourite books

I was reminded of my love for The Elegance of the Hedgehog when I was trying to think what would be my ten favourite books I would take on a desert island.

Why is Muriel Barbery’s book one of the first I think of?

Read this description and you’ll find out why:

“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 twelve-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 sixteenth 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.

Paloma and Renée hide both their true talents and their finest qualities from a world they suspect cannot or will not appreciate them. They discover their kindred souls when a wealthy Japanese man named Ozu arrives in the building. Only he is able to gain Paloma’s trust and to see through Renée’s timeworn disguise to the secret that haunts her. This is a moving, funny, triumphant novel that exalts the quiet victories of the inconspicuous among us.”

Dear reader, I’ll share a secret with you. When I started reading the first chapter I stopped after three paragraphs. I left the book to find a pencil and a dictionary. Why? Because the choice of vocabulary is so rich and they were not every day words that I knew. I wanted to know the complete meaning of the words she choose because I knew they were special. I also wanted to read slowly. I knew this was a book to be enjoyed one word at a time.

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