The Elegance of the Hedgehog

The Elegance of the Hedgehog

Book - 2014
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We are in the center of Paris, in an elegant apartment building inhabited by bourgeois families. Renée, the concierge, is witness to the lavish but vacuous lives of her numerous employers. Outwardly she conforms to every stereotype of the concierge: fat, cantankerous, addicted to television. Yet, unbeknownst to her employers, Renée is a cultured autodidact who adores art, philosophy, music, and Japanese culture. With humor and intelligence she scrutinizes the lives of the building's tenants, who for their part are barely aware of her existence. 

Then there's Paloma, a twelve-year-old genius. She is the daughter of a tedious parliamentarian, a talented and startlingly lucid child who has decided to end her life on the sixteenth of June, her thirteenth birthday. Until then she will continue behaving as everyone expects her to behave: a mediocre pre-teen high on adolescent subculture, a good but not an outstanding student, an obedient if obstinate daughter. 

Paloma and Renée hide both their true talents and their finest qualities from a world they suspect cannot or will not appreciate them. They discover their kindred souls when a wealthy Japanese man named Ozu arrives in the building. Only he is able to gain Paloma's trust and to see through Renée's timeworn disguise to the secret that haunts her. This is a moving, funny, triumphant novel that exalts the quiet victories of the inconspicuous among us.
Publisher: New York : Europa Editions, 2014.
Copyright Date: ©2008
ISBN: 9781933372600
Branch Call Number: BAR
Characteristics: 325 pages ; 21 cm


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Apr 04, 2017

Not for everyone, it moves slowly and not much action except the changes in the characters. Lots of digressions. It feels very French, hard for a North American to accept the class divisions that are an important part of the book. But I would gladly re-read it, with more patience.

Nov 04, 2016

"Having a rich inner life" does not afford you the right to denigrate and look down your nose at others. One of the most pretentious and self indulgent novels I have read in some time. I am of the opinion that a novel reflects in many ways the beliefs and personality of the author. I would not walk across the street to meet this woman.

DCPL_Karen Nov 04, 2016

Sweet, simple, and surprisingly subtle.

Sep 10, 2016

What a delight; beautifully written and translated. Such a sad and sensitive story about the real lives and thoughts of the people living in a Paris apartment building.

Mar 23, 2016

Great book!

Nov 12, 2015

The story was very well-told. There was humor and I liked the change of voices between the characters.

Oct 07, 2015

This book would have been perfect if it hadn't turned a bit too sentimental towards the end. On balance, greatly enjoyed it.

Jun 15, 2015

What a grating book...Characters that seem to whine and say: 'Look at me: I'm smart and self-aware and read Tolstoy, but I'm sensitive and marginalized so I have more soul, more depth than anyone else. I may be socially inferior but--meh--I can take smug comfort in my moral superiority, so take that, cruel world!' Gah.

It's the most irritating artifice in books to conflate the precocious with interesting and charming. Renee (a self-inflicted outcast) and Paloma (a self-inflicted angsty brat), you are smart but you are far from interesting or charming.

PimaLib_StephanieM May 18, 2015

Glad I finished it but I'm not sure why I finished it. It took f-o-r-e-v-e-r. Philosophy isn't my thing and English translations of modern French literature aren't either. If either of those are for you, then enjoy! I thought the author (or translator?) waited far too long to inject the protagonists with enough humanity for me to care about what was happening to them.

Apr 01, 2015

This is a book rarely found, excellent written, innumerable citations and original stories.
You don't want to finish reading.

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Feb 07, 2013

"They didn't recognize me," I say.
I come to a halt in the middle of the sidewalk, completely flabbergasted.
"They didn't recognize me," I repeat.
He stops in turn, my hand still on his arm.
"It is because they have never seen you," he says. "I would recognize you anywhere."

Jul 27, 2011

[C]athedrals have always aroused in me the sensation of extreme light-headedness one often feels in the presence of man-made tributes to the glory of something that does not exist … [and] tested to the extreme my ability to believe that so much intelligence could have gone to serve so futile an undertaking.

Nov 15, 2010

That's just great; something like this would happen right before I die. Twelve and a half years in a cultural desert and right when it's time to go and pack it in a Japanese gentleman arrives . . . it really is too unfair.

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