Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Books: The Elegance of the Hedgehog

The Elegance of the Hedgehog
By Muriel Barbery
Copyright 2006
325 pages

What can I say about this book of ideas that has not already been said?

It's a terrific book. On its surface, it's a story of an older woman, Renee, who is a concierge at a rich apartment-like dwelling in France, and a young girl who becomes her friend.

But oh, it is so much more than that. This is book about thinking, about living in your mind, about being in that space that only you can occupy.

It is also a book about society, about social class, about age and gender and the differences and lack thereof between human beings.

The thing had pages and pages of wonderful lines; I wish I had underlined them so I could put them here (but I hate to mark up my books).

Here are a few random lines:

"When we push open a door, we transform a place in a very insidious way. We offend its full extension, and introduce a disruptive and poorly proportioned obstacle. If you think about it carefully, there is nothing uglier than an open door." (152)

I think this was my favorite paragraph:

"... grammar is a way to attain beauty. When you speak, or read, or write, you can tell if you've said or read or written a fine sentence. You can recognize a well-turned phrase or an elegant style. But when you are applying the rules of grammar skillfully, you ascend to another level of the beauty of language. When you use grammar you peel back the layers, to see how it is all put together, see it quite naked, in a way. And that's where it becomes wonderful . . ." (158)

Sigh. How could I not love that?

Some reviews call this a "fable of love, friendship and the beauty of Art." Others call it "succinct, unusual, light yet erudite." They use words like "charming, intelligent, extraordinary."

One French review (in the front of the book) says that a Parisian psychotherapist prescribes the book to her patients, calling it a "real toolbox that one can look into to resolve one's problems."

The book has no real action. Renee goes about her life trying to hide her intelligence (concierges are supposed to be idiots, apparently) and the young girl wants to kill herself because she thinks her family hates her.

They both learn very big lessons before the book ends, proving that you are never the old dog who cannot learn, nor too young to understand at least some of the complexities of life.

This is a book I plan to read again. I do not say that about books often.

This was my book club read for March, and in discussion, I was the only person who took the ending as a negative. Others took it as a positive affirmation. I won't give anything away, but I do think there are two ways to look at it, and both are right.


  1. I've seen a lot about this book and it does sound good. Must seek out a copy!

  2. Looks like I'll have to add this to my "must read" list.

  3. Shame on you! You've made me add another book to my must-read stack!!
    (I went over to the dark side a number of years ago and now I love to write in my book margins! I look up definitions, star special passages and write brief thoughts.)

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