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L'élégance du hérisson by Muriel Barbery

L'élégance du hérisson (original 2006; edition 2006)

by Muriel Barbery

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7,222None491 (3.81)2 / 775
Title:L'élégance du hérisson
Authors:Muriel Barbery
Info:Publication : [Paris] : Gallimard, 2006 Impression : 27-Mesnil-sur-l'Estrée : Impr. Firmin-Didot Description matérielle : 1 vol. (359 p.) ; 21 cm
Collections:Your library
Tags:B4, roman

Work details

The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery (2006)

2009 (58) 2010 (47) 21st century (57) art (31) book club (54) class (27) concierge (77) contemporary (37) contemporary fiction (50) fiction (866) France (355) French (210) French fiction (54) French literature (133) friendship (113) literary fiction (32) literature (69) novel (141) own (26) Paris (285) philosophy (254) read (57) read in 2009 (40) read in 2010 (42) Roman (47) suicide (39) to-read (136) translated (25) translation (54) unread (26)
  1. 131
    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. 53
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    lauranav: Both show relationships and point of view of a young girl.
  3. 20
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    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)
  4. 10
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  7. 00
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  8. 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.
  9. 00
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    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. 23
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English (376)  Spanish (25)  French (24)  Italian (23)  German (10)  Finnish (5)  Swedish (5)  Catalan (4)  Dutch (4)  Norwegian (1)  All languages (477)
Showing 1-5 of 376 (next | show all)
Do not get bogged down or hung up on the philosophy or vocabulary in this book, (one reader suggests having a dictionary close at hand)because beneath all of that is a heatwarming, brilliant, witty, bittersweet story.

I will read this again!

"Madame Michel has the elegance of the hedgehog: on the outside she is covered in quills, a real fortress, but my gut feeling is that on the inside, she has the same simple refinement as the hedgehog: a deceptively indolent little creature, fiercely solitary--and terrible elegant. "
— Muriel Barbery (The Elegance of the Hedgehog)
( )
  FAR2MANYBOOKS | Apr 5, 2014 |
Do not get bogged down or hung up on the philosophy or vocabulary in this book, (one reader suggests having a dictionary close at hand)because beneath all of that is a heatwarming, brilliant, witty, bittersweet story.

I will read this again!

"Madame Michel has the elegance of the hedgehog: on the outside she is covered in quills, a real fortress, but my gut feeling is that on the inside, she has the same simple refinement as the hedgehog: a deceptively indolent little creature, fiercely solitary--and terrible elegant. "
— Muriel Barbery (The Elegance of the Hedgehog)
( )
  FAR2MANYBOOKS | Apr 5, 2014 |
I absolutely loved this book. The trio of unique characters -- all wise, authentic and sharing a passion for literature, philosophy and art -- blended unexpectedly together. The writing is beautiful as was the story. ( )
  AmyKite | Apr 2, 2014 |
Elegance is a matter of taste, of preference, rather than an absolute.

Renee and Paloma are fish out of water. Renee is the building concierge in a fashionable apartment building in Paris and, to the shallow observer, Renee is anything but fashionable. She is from a modest, working-class family and unappealing to those who would look only on the surface. Paloma is the precocious, youngest daughter of a wealthy family in the building. She refuses any attempt at inclusion in the privileged world of her family. What courses beneath the surface for both of these women is a rich, complex internal life. Though she never finished a formal education, Renee has schooled herself in literature and philosophy and art. And Paloma, though merely eccentric appearing, has calculated the meaninglessness of life and is planning a grand suicide on the date of her thirteenth birthday party.

There is an elegance to Barbery’s novel, though it is diluted by a careless narrative, a lack of good editing, and a saccharine ending. Renee and Paloma are exquisite characters with a depth and complexity that is rare in literature. The irony of their lives would be a joke if they were any less authentic. But Barbey was enchanted by her own characters to the point of distraction and the narrative suffers for it. There could be nothing better for these two characters than for them to meet. But they don’t even admit to noticing each other until over halfway through the novel, and then only after a mutual acquaintance forces the issue.

So what happens in the first half of the book? That’s where a good editor could have been helpful. Up until the point that Renee and Paloma become aware of each other, they indulge their internal lives. Though the intrigue in their characters is a result of listening to their thoughts, Barbery allowed the exercise to go on a little too long. Renee’s biting insights on her employers are charming and witty at first, but then tiring. And Paloma’s philosophical musings on life are exposed as too smart for even the most precocious twelve year olds as they drag on. Barbery could have accomplished the same complexity without allowing the narrative to get lost.

Finally, the ending here is too neat, too shocking by miles. I won’t spoil it for anyone who reads the book, but the vehicle Barbery uses to bring a change in the lives of her characters is abrupt and ultimately trite.

If it sounds like I didn’t like [The Elegance of the Hegdehog], that’s not quite right. I enjoyed a great deal of the book, especially the two principal characters. But I think the overall experience was clouded by what I saw as wasted potential. I began to write my own narrative for Renee and Paloma, imagining what I thought their meeting and lives would be like together. So, I’d recommend the book but with a caution that you might have some disappointment along the way.

Bottom Line: Complex and intriguing characters in a narrative that gets a little lost and a novel that needs a little more editing.

4 bones!!!!! ( )
  blackdogbooks | Mar 30, 2014 |
This was an enjoyable read! Originally in French, but recently translated into English, it's about a concierge and a 12-year-old girl who live in the same building. They're both intellectual, but they try to hide it from everyone (how very French). The book is all about their relationships with other people who live in that building, and their relationship with each other. I really didn't like the ending (also very French...), but the rest of the book was cute and quite funny! ( )
  goet0095 | Mar 27, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 376 (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.

» Add other authors (41 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Muriel Barberyprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Öjerskog, MarianneTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Anderson, AlisonTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Enqvist, HelénTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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For Stephane, with whom I wrote this book
Stéphanovi, se kterým jsem tuto knihu napsala
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.
- Marx naprosto změnil moje vidění světa, svěřil se mi toho rána mladý Palliéres, který se mnou normálně neprohodí ani slovo.
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.
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...'
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.
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.
... 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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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.

(summary from another edition)

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