The Elegance of the Hedgehog, Muriel Barbery


Renée is the concierge of a grand Parisian apartment building on the Left Bank. To the residents, she is is honest, reliable and uncultivated – an ideal concierge.

But Renée has a secret. Beneath this conventional façade, she is passionate about culture and the arts, and more knowledgeable in many ways than her self-important employers.

Down in her lodge, Renée is resigned to living a lie; meanwhile, several floors up, twelve-year-old Paloma Josse is determined to avoid a predictably bourgeois future, and plans to commit suicide on her thirteenth birthday.

But the sudden death of one of their privileged neighbours will bring dramatic change to number 7 Rue du Grenelle, altering the course of both their lives forever.

Review by Laura

Originally written in French, this novel is full of quintessentially Parisian characters. It’s charming depiction of the quirky, eccentric residents is reminiscent of the cult French film, Amélie.

As well as being a novelist, Barbery is also a teacher of philosophy and this book reads like a homage to those who have ever pondered the meaning of life.

Although, admittedly, a good number of the arty/philosophical references went over my head, the tongue in cheek tone in which the book is written makes it an easy read.

Last week I criticised the jarring juxtaposition of stories in Unsheltered so at the risk of sounding like a hypocrite (not great for a philosophical novel review!), I think the juxtaposition of characters in this book really adds to its charm. Could it be because it’s French? Peut-être!

Whereas last week I was very much on the fence, for The Elegance of the Hedgehog there’s no doubt. I would thoroughly recommend it, particularly to anyone with a French connection.

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