When I picked up The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery at Borders using my 30% off for Educator Appreciation Week, I really had no idea what the book was really about. I had heard a lot of really good things about it, and I really liked the cover art. I read the descripton on the flap, and it sounded like a nice light read with quirky characters. Well, I had the part about the quirky characters right at least. I took it with me on a business trip to Cleveland for a conference so had plenty of time flying and waiting for planes to read it.
Renee Michel is a 54-year-old concierge for the upscale apartment building at 7 rue de Grenelle in Paris. She spends her time trying to appear to be uncultured to the residents in her building, but she spends her evenings reading Tolstoy and Husserl. Paloma Josse is a 12-year-old who is so smart she feels that she must pretend to be less intelligent in school to avoid being an outcast. Her efforts to be less intelligent still put her at the top of her class. She feels that her sister and family are all snobs and wants to teach them a lesson in humility. The book goes back and forth between the two main characters’ stories until a new resident, Kakuro Ozu, moves into the building and befriends both Renee and Paloma.
What surprised me about the novel was the fact that about half of it was philosophical wanderings by the main characters. It reminded me of The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera. Once I got used to the style of the book, I was hooked. I made sure not to make eye contact with any of my neighbors on the various flights so I could spend the whole time reading and not have to make small talk. The only complaint I have with the book is that the ending was a bit abrupt. I will say no more about the ending for fear of spoiling the story for you, but I will say that the book stuck with me for a while after reading it. That, to me, is quite high praise because I tend to forget half the plot of a book a day or two after finishing it.
I used my birthday gift card to Barnes & Noble to buy Gourmet Rhapsody, the second book by Barbery to be translated into English. I look forward to reading it.