Book Reviews / Books

Review: The Elegance of the Hedgehog – Muriel Barbery


Given my love for books and the rate at which I devour them, it’s a rarity that a bestseller passes me by. Proof, however, that even the most dedicated of bookworms can’t stay abreast of every new release, is that until I was recently recommended The Elegance of the Hedgehog by an old school friend, it was yet to appear on my radar.

Written by novelist and professor of philosophy Muriel Barbery, the novel was translated from its native French by Alison Anderson, serialised on Radio 4 and has sold over five million copies worldwide.

Applauded by critics as a poignant tale and an elegant portrayal of Parisian life, The Elegance of the Hedgehog is a collection of musings from Renée, a 54 year-old concierge in a grand Parisian apartment block, home to the French elite. She is patronised and belittled by the residents, but is complicit in the way she is treated, since she makes a concerted effort to disguise her true nature and her love of art and literature.

An unlikely friendship develops between Renée and Paloma, the 12 year-old troubled daughter of one of the families living within the apartment block. She, too, hides her intellect from her family and, convinced of the futility of life, has resolved to kill herself on her 13th birthday.

The dual narrative in which the novel is written gives the reader a deeper insight into the lives of both Renée and Paloma, and as the novel progresses so too does the likeability of the characters.

A subtle book rich with lyrical prose, The Elegance of the Hedgehog is essentially about beauty in the midst of tragedy. The poignancy of the ending took me by surprise; suffice to say I finished it on a packed commuter tube openly weeping.

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