Sunday, March 03, 2013

Review: The elegance of the hedgehog by Muriel Barbery

The elegance of the hedgehog gives me double feelings. When I started reading it last year it irked me and I had to put it on pause for a while, until January this year. I was ready.

Left: Swedish, Right: English cover
The book is about the concierge Renée Michel who loves to consume high brow culture (which she hides from everyone) and the 12 year old Paloma Josse living in the building Renée works (and lives) in. Paloma plans to commit suicide when she turns 13. Due to a new neighbour in the building the both of them find comfort and a friend in each other and both of them start to grow as people and understand what's been holding them back.

The elegance of the hedgehog brings up class, music, movies, literature and culture overall. It's written in first person from Renée and Paloma's views, depending on the chapter. It's also at times philosophic, for example: what is beauty?

At first Renée annoyed me with her charade of pretending to be someone she isn't and all the work arounds she do so no one will find out. I couldn't stand it because no one should act a certain way or hide who they are because they're lower or upper class or whatnot. It felt so stereotypical: "you must behave like this because you're this and not that".

I gave it a second chance this year though and started to like it. I had read enough books in between to be ready for this one. I could now see the warmth in it and the depth of the characters. I had a bit of a trouble remembering all of the background characters though but I didn't feel it mattered too much since it mostly focused on the two main characters Renée and Paloma.

I really liked it until the end which had that kind of ending I hate which reminded me a bit about One day by David Nicholls and the Swedish book En man som heter Ove by Fredrik Backman. I cried and read the last chapters with blurry eyes.

I'm not going to reveal the ending and despite me being upset for quite some time after reading the book I have to say that it's still worth reading (so are the other two books above). It can feel a bit heavy for the light novel reader though.

I read the Swedish translation (left image), it's originally written in French.

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