Friday, July 10, 2015

The Elegance of the Hedgehog - Muriel Barbery

The Elegance of the Hedgehog
Title: The Elegance of the Hedgehog
Author: Muriel Barbery
Publication Date: 6/5/05
Pages: 325
Date Completed: 6/13/15

Summary: A secretly intellectual concierge, Renée, and a pragmatically suicidal child genius, Paloma, live in the same Paris apartment building. Their paths slowly begin to overlap as they each step outside of their comfort zone to forge new friendships and experience the world around them in new ways.

What I Thought: I feel pressure to laud the brilliance of Barbery's famous novel. That pressure, I recognize, stems mostly from myself and my desire to agree with academic and philosophic acclaim. Yet, sometimes, I must blaze my own trail with my own opinions, based exclusively on my experience, rather than the self-imposed expectations of academia and high-brow literature.

Was that paragraph too much for you? Yeah, me too.  As was this book.

I wanted so badly to love it. The francophile and bibliophile in me longed to appreciate the extensive philosophizing and distinctly French charm of the story. Yet, somewhere in the midst of all of that, I lost touch. I struggled to care about the characters. I could not understand their motivations at times. I found their egotistical approach to the world off-putting. I love intellectualism and deep thought, but never at the expense or isolation of others. The two main characters here seemed to delight in their unique brilliance to the point of disparaging all others who failed to share their specific interests. They both complained a great deal about feeling isolated from the world and being abnormal, yet more often than not, they seemed to be placing themselves in that position. 

The book did have some charm. The plot is actually quite lovely. Unfortunately, however, the progression of story is often buried beneath the loquacious thoughts of Renée and Paloma. I get it, the book is not supposed to be about the progression of plot, rather the characters and relationships. I, of all people, loathe the demonization of character development and demand for more action, yet, here I am doing just that. My favorite parts of the book were when something, anything happened

Perhaps I read this at the wrong time of year. You all know my penchant for seasonal reading. I like light and fun in the summertime and this book really did not fit that mold. Yet, I struggled through it for months before finally finishing, so maybe the time of year had nothing to do with it. Maybe this is more a time of life issue. Perhaps I am simply not yet intellectual or philosophical enough to appreciate the Barbery's ramblings. Or....perhaps this book just is not for me.  

Rating: ★★★★☆☆
Will I Re-Read: I think probably
If You Liked This Try: Amusing Ourselves to Death / The Goldfinch / The Hours

A Reduced Review: Despite my desire to really love this book, I found it too weighed down with intellectual philosophizing and characters I struggled to like.

I'm proud to remind you that this book is on my 2015 TBR Pile Challenge list.  I'm so excited I joined this challenge for the first time. I am enjoying having some structure to my TBR and the change to make intentional choices about what I read next. Make sure you check out the rest of my list and follow the challenge throughout the year. 


  1. Thanks for this -- I'm always so demoralized when I feel like I don't dig something that others adored, esp if it's cerebral. Glad to know I'm not the only one!

    1. I really feel the same. You are not alone! I always feel like I'm failing myself when I don't absolutely love something like this.

  2. This book appeals to me but your review makes me think that I probably would end up frustrated with it. Good review--ones about books you're lukewarm about are always the toughest to write, at least for me.