Give me books, fruit, french wine and fine weather and a little music out of doors. --John Keats

Sunday, December 21, 2014

"The Elegance of the Hedgehog" by Muriel Barbery

This is a quiet little book--or at least it seemed that way to begin with. But it surreptitiously crept up on me (or maybe in me?) and meant much more to me in the end than it did in the beginning. In fact, I didn't especially enjoy reading the first half of this book (though I did appreciate the writing and the thoughts expressed). But I must admit that by the end I had a tear in my eye. (See? I could prove I'm human if I had to.)

Not a lot happens plot-wise (which is mostly what I meant when I called it quiet). Though there are a handful of significant events, there isn't much movement in the story, and certainly no flash or dazzle; but this book impresses in a more muted and meaningful way.

The writing focuses on two characters: Renée, a dumpy, middle-aged concierge in a classy Parisian apartment building, and twelve-year-old Paloma, a privileged tenant. In some ways these two characters are mirrors of one another. Each is highly intelligent, and each strives to hide that intelligence from those around them (though Renée does this to a much greater extent than Paloma). But whereas Renée has a ravenous hunger for continuing the clandestine education she has managed for herself (none of it formal), Paloma has already decided that life has no meaning, and those who pretend it does are fooling themselves.

It's funny how I keep going back to Me Before You in my mind as I read--it's not as if that book could possibly have become my literary touchstone!--but I'm still trying to pin down the reason I can be so accepting of romance and tragedy in some books and so dismissive of it in others. Maybe it's really as Sam says, and it's just down to the quality of writing? I think with Hedgehog, it's also the fact that Barbery doesn't screech Romance and Tragedy, blatant and annoying. Instead she whispers quietly of them, describing them through silhouette and negative space. Or perhaps that's just an example of higher quality writing?

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