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The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel…
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The Elegance of the Hedgehog (2006)

by Muriel Barbery

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
9,235574490 (3.79)2 / 876
  1. 161
    The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa (labfs39, chrisharpe)
    labfs39: Both have incredibly well-drawn, quirky characters that are lovable in their unique humaness. Both have highly intelligent characters that are vulnerable because of their very gift. In both books I learned things in fields not particularly close to me: math in Housekeeper and philosophy in Elegance.… (more)
  2. 30
    A Novel Bookstore by Laurence Cossé (morsecode)
    morsecode: The English-language editions (published by Europa Editions) of both novels are translated by Alison Andersen. There isn't a lot of similarity between the two novels (beyond the fact that both are quite literary), but I do think that someone who enjoys one will enjoy the other.… (more)
  3. 53
    Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson (cransell)
  4. 64
    The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley (lauranav)
    lauranav: Both show relationships and point of view of a young girl.
  5. 10
    The Last Samurai by Helen DeWitt (camillahoel)
  6. 10
    The Selected Works of T. S. Spivet by Reif Larsen (heterotopic)
  7. 10
    The Seven Fires of Mademoiselle by Esther Vilar (sanddancer)
  8. 10
    Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl (krist_ellis, tinyteaspoon)
    tinyteaspoon: Strong young female protagonist
  9. 00
    The Cleaner of Chartres by Salley Vickers (klerulo)
    klerulo: Not so much the commonality of a French setting but that of a very enigmatic, obscure heroine who attracts the attention of others who are discerning and sensitive enough to perceive the hidden depths.
  10. 00
    The Girl from the Chartreuse by Pierre Péju (bluepiano)
    bluepiano: Both are modern French novels written by philosophy teachers, both protagonists are awkward and isolated, both authors mask their sentimentality with a calm tone and both quite rightly remind pedestrians to look each way before crossing a road.
  11. 00
    Lovesong by Alex Miller (jll1976)
    jll1976: There is the obvious 'Paris connection'. But, also a similar slow almost dreamlike quality. About the beauty of a 'simple' life.
  12. 01
    Chocolat by Joanne Harris (hildretha)
  13. 16
    Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami (tandah)
  14. 17
    The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco (albavirtual)
    albavirtual: Una historia oscura e intrigante y, al mismo tiempo, llena de profundas reflexiones sobre la risa, el arte y la libertad del hombre.
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English (472)  Spanish (29)  Italian (24)  French (24)  German (10)  Finnish (8)  Swedish (5)  Dutch (5)  Catalan (4)  Norwegian (1)  Hebrew (1)  All languages (583)
Showing 1-5 of 472 (next | show all)
The Elegance of the Hedgehog is about what you would expect if I told you it was a fictional book written by a French philosopher. You can practically smell the stereotypes of the baguette and cigarette wafting in between sentences on the pointlessness of life. I once had a friend who translated Rousseau's J'étais né presque mourant as "I was born half dead," and she used it to summarize the rest of French culture.

The first few chapters (or half of the book, really) have two independent voices, the two protagonists, Renée Michel and Paloma Josse, an older woman (Renée) who acts as the concierge at the apartment building for a bunch of upper-class, hoighty-toighty Parisians, including the daughter (Paloma) of one. You won't know this, either of their names, or figure out much of the details of their life until the author lets you piece it together.

Most of the narration is concerned with philosophy, a lot of references to European (especially Russian) and Japanese books/films but little of the story. That accomplishes two things: first, the diatribe of the author; second, giving flavor to the characters. Renée really reminds me of my mom at times because she often disagrees intellectually with others and can be a bit pretentious inside when she's inside of her own mind. Paloma reminds me of myself and a lot of my peers at high school, thinking that we were superior and had more perceptive minds than most everyone we knew.

Very little of the book is given in consideration of the other characters. It's not exactly trenchant criticism to say that the protagonists of the book are the centerpiece of the novel. However, they do spend a lot of time criticizing the people they see as vacuous rich kids with their shallow, materialistic lives. There's a part where Renée surreptitiously opens up a letter containing and reads the Master's Thesis of Paloma's sister, and she goes on to critique it as the typical product of universities: possessing little critical thought and more career-seeking (or name-building) than original or carefully crafted. Believe me, I have run into a lot of papers and works that seem equally squalid, but in her personal voice, the author may have dealt with the subject only superficially.

In contrast to what may seem a negative review, I really like the ending. I think it's uplifting and happy, and while that would be a negative for a lot of American books (a sappy ending to a difficult conflict), it works here because it is happy in the context of a persistent blight that seems to sap the two intellectuals' happiness. It illuminates a transformation in the character of Paloma, and it left me with food for thought (so much so that I'm using a pun and a cliché). ( )
  Ben.Horowitz | Sep 5, 2018 |
Where do I begin? Do I start by saying that this was the most frustrating thing I've ever read since Interview with the Vampire? Do I admit that I missed Louis de Pointe du Lac and his inane babbling about life and salvation? I sure did. Here the two protagonists are incredibly unlikeable. Arrogant, snobbish, and carrying themselves as superiors in a world they vaguely try to understand but nonetheless condemn. There was a lot of psychobabble and not enough action. The plot appears on page 140-something and it's so vapid I nearly weeped. The characters I loved the most were Kakuro and Manuela. The rest could've burned in hell fire for all I cared. I don't know what was worse: the musings on philosophy were overwhelming and not in the good way or the incredibly boring narration. Read only if you desire to experience a self-centered blog in book format. ( )
  lapiccolina | Aug 22, 2018 |
A young girl is unhappy with her life and has a plan to commit suicide. However, when her life begins to intersect with others in her apartment building, everything begins to take unexpected turns.

This review is not really going to be fair because I read this book about a year and a half ago but only recently realized I never sat down to review it.

Initially, I had received this book as a gift but was finally given the push to read it when my book club chose it as a title one month. It made for a great discussion with others.

However, I did feel like I was rushing to get it done in time (poor planning on my part). In fact, I started swapping between reading the print book and listening to the audiobook so that I could finish it before we met. I'd like to re-read the book someday and spend more time with it, especially to look up the references that I didn't immediately know.

I recall the book could be rather philosophical at times; in fact, this title would appeal more to those who like character-driven books rather than plot-driven ones. The audiobook version was well-narrated. ( )
  sweetiegherkin | Aug 17, 2018 |
This book is heartbreaking, surprising, well written and reminds of humanity on a different level. There’s no endless love or stupid teenagers but real people in the real world that connect with you make you wonder about your neighbors and the little things in life that go unnoticed sometimes. It calls you to pay attention to oddities that give color to life and mystery. ( )
1 vote neosofia | Jun 19, 2018 |
I have never read anything like this.
  alik-fuchs | Apr 27, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 472 (next | show all)
Barbery’s sly wit, which bestows lightness on the most ponderous cogitations, keeps her tale aloft.
added by Nickelini | editthe New Yorker (Oct 20, 2008)
 
Le Figaro has described this book as 'the publishing phenomenon of the decade'. Elsewhere, there were comparisons to Proust. It sold more than a million copies in France last year and has won numerous awards. Does it match up to the hype? Almost. It is a profound but accessible book (not quite Proust, then), which elegantly treads the line between literary and commercial fiction.
added by Nickelini | editThe Guardian, Vicky Groskop (Sep 14, 2008)
 
Even when the novel is most essayistic, the narrators’ kinetic minds and engaging voices... propel us ahead.
 
Efter en något trög första del, förvandlades Igelkottens elegans till en liten pärla, till en bok som berörde mig. Och jag som sällan läser om böcker, funderar skarpt på att läsa om.
 
Därefter blir ”Igelkottens elegans” en fråga om ett ganska enkelt demaskerande och en ännu enklare trivialpsykologisk analys. Men fram till dess skrockar man förnöjt när Renée och Paloma var och en på sitt håll övertrumfar varandra i knivskarpa beskrivningar av den korkade och obildade parisiska överklassen och dess själsliv – tunt som en kålsoppa utan kål.
 

» Add other authors (49 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Muriel Barberyprimary authorall editionscalculated
Öjerskog, MarianneTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Anderson, AlisonTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Enqvist, HelénTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
Dedication
For Stephane, with whom I wrote this book
First words
"Marx has completely changed the way I view the world," declared the Pallieres boy this morning, although ordinarily he says nary a word to me.
Quotations
Thus, the television in the front room, guardian of my clandestine activities, could bleat away and I was no longer forced to listen to inane nonsense fit for the brain of a clam - I was in the back room, perfectly euphoric, my eyes filling with tears, in the miraculous presence of Art.
(p.17)
In the heat of the cinema, on the verge of tears, happier than I had ever been, I was holding the faint warmth of his hand for the first time in months. I knew that an unexpected surge of energy had roused him from his bed, given him the strength to get dressed and the urge to go out, the desire for us to share a conjugal pleasure one more time - and I knew, too, that this was the sign that there was not much time left, a state of grace before the end. But that did not matter to me, I just wanted to make the most of it, of these moments stolen from the burden of illness, moments with his warm hand in mine and a shudder of pleasure going through both of us...'
(p.71)
I flinched when she said bring and at that very moment Monsieur Something also flinched, and our eyes met. And since that infinitesimal nanosecond when - of this I am sure - we were joined in linguistic solidarity by the shared pain that made our bodies shudder, Monsieur Something has been observing me with a very different gaze.
A watchful gaze.
And now he is speaking to me.
(p.130)
What is the purpose of Art? To give us the brief, dazzling illusion of the camellia; to carve from time an emotional aperture that cannot be reduced to animal logic. How is Art born? It is begotten in the mind's ability to sculpt the sensorial domain. What does Art do for us? It gives shape to our emotions, makes them visible and, in so doing, places a seal of eternity upon them, a seal representing all those works that, by means of a particular form, have incarnated the universal nature of human emotions.
(p.199)
... αναλογίζομαι τελικά ότι ίσως αυτό να είναι η ζωή: πολλή απελπισία, αλλά και μερικές στιγμές ομορφιάς, στις οποίες ο χρόνος δεν είναι πια ο ίδιος. Λες και οι νότες της μουσικής έβαλαν μια παρένθεση στον χρόνο, μια αναστολή, ένα αλλού ακόμη και εδώ, ένα πάντα μέσα στο ποτέ.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
Disambiguation notice
Original title: L'élégance du hérisson
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Wikipedia in English (1)

Book description
Renee is the concierge of a grand Parisian apartment building, home to members of the great and the good. Over the years she has maintained her carefully constructed persona as someone reliable but totally uncultivated, in keeping, she feels, with society s expectations of what a concierge should be. But beneath this façade lies the real Renée: passionate about culture and the arts, and more knowledgeable in many ways than her employers with their outwardly successful but emotionally void lives. Down in her lodge, apart from weekly visits by her one friend Manuela, Renée lives resigned to her lonely lot with only her cat for company. Meanwhile, several floors up, twelve-year-old Paloma Josse is determined to avoid the pampered and vacuous future laid out for her, and decides to end her life on her thirteenth birthday. But unknown to them both, the sudden death of one of their privileged neighbours will dramatically alter their lives forever.
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The lives of fifty-four-year-old concierge Rene Michel and extremely bright, suicidal twelve-year-old Paloma Josse are transformed by the arrival of a new tenant, Kakuro Ozu.

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