Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery

hedgehogThe Elegance of the Hedgehog, in French: L’Élégance du hérisson, is written by the French novelist and professor of philosophy Muriel Barbery. The book follows the life of a concierge, Renée Michel, whose hidden intelligence is discovered by no one save a precocious twelve year-old girl named Paloma Josse who lives in the same building.

Paloma is the daughter of an upper-class family living in a fancy Parisian apartment building at 7 Rue de Grenelle – one of the most elegant streets in Paris. Divided into eight luxury apartments, the building has a courtyard and a private garden. Paloma is a mature young girl who loves reading Japanese manga, haiku, and tanka. She has a surprising grasp of the ways of the world despite her age.

Renée Michel is the concierge of the building. She has never been to college, but has taught herself to read the German philosopher Immanuel Kant and Russian writer Leo Tolstoy, adores 17th-century Dutch paintings, and listens to the music of Purcell and Mahler. Paloma refers to Renée as having the elegance of the hedgehog.

The Elegance of the Hedgehog is full of allusions to literary works, music, films and art. The novel is presented through the thoughts of the two narrators, Renée and Paloma. Paloma’s narration takes the form of her written journal entries, and Renée’s story is told in the first person and present tense.

A cultured Japanese businessman named Kakuro Ozu takes a room in the apartment building. Somehow he is able to gain Paloma’s trust and to break through Renée’s thin disguise.

First released in August 2006 by Gallimard, the novel became a publishing success in France the following year, selling over two million copies. It has been translated into more than forty languages, and published in numerous countries outside France.
Caron Naysmith www.tbpl.ca

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