Book Review: The Elegance of the Hedgehog

Pity the poor in spirit who know neither the enchantment nor the beauty of language.””

I just finished a wonderful novel by French author, Muriel Barbery, The Elegance of the Hedgehog. It was an intellectual, bordering philosophical read that often had me questioning my own ways of life. Barbery’s words stimulate the mind. She is able to take a single, often overlooked concept, and lift a transparent veil in order for the reader to perceive it in a different way. There was one short chapter in particular that I read over again just because the concept was so simplistically brilliant. It was about the beauty of sliding doors and how it is much more thoughtful of space than traditional swinging doors that destroy the unity of a space.
“”When movement has been banished from a nature that seeks its continuity, when it becomes renegade and remarkable by virtue of its very discontinuity, it attains the level of aesthetic creation. Because art is life, playing to other rhythms.””

I don’t want to give anything away, but the over-arching message of the novel is to try to be a less self-consumed, perceptive human being in order to really get to know others. It’s also a novel about how looks can be deceiving. The two main characters are a fifty four year old woman, Renee, and a twelve year old girl, Paloma, who are extremely intelligent but try to hide it from others. Although there are parts in the novel that are rather melancholy, like the fact that the twelve year old wants to commit suicide because she can’t stand her elitist family and has no one she can really be herself around, there are other uplifting moments that inspire hope. It’s hard to imagine having many profound thoughts racing through your head everyday and not being able to share your feelings and insights. But the beauty of this novel is that just when Paloma thinks there is no other way she can go on living her life, an unexpected door opens and she realizes that she, in fact, is not alone in the world. Sometimes it takes a really long time to find out what/who you need, but once it’s found it all becomes worth the wait and you feel more appreciative of what you have.

I don’t recommend this book to anyone who wants a fluffy, light novel. It does require a bit of thinking, not only because the rich use of vocabulary but also because there are a lot of French references to places/history/etc. that I did not know. The brief summary on the back cover of the novel does not do it justice. It was when I was almost half way in The Elegance of the Hedgehog that it finally clicked and I began really connecting with the novel and its characters. This is a novel that I would definitely consider re-reading in the future. If anything, this book reminded me not to underestimate someone simply based on their profession, age, or looks, and to take in my surroundings each and every day. As the title suggests, a “”hedgehog”” may look rough on the outside but may be a beautiful creature underneath all of the spikes.

My novel rating: 4.5/5 stars