A hedgehog is a bristly creature, covered in quills, and difficult to get close to. At first, The Elegance of the Hedgehog reads somewhat like a hedgehog in that it takes a while before its charm is revealed. I had heard so many good things about the book and was initially surprised that the main characters verged on the surreal. But soon, I could not help but love the imperfections of Madame Michel, the concierge of a Paris apartment building at 7 rue de Grenelle, and her nemesis, Paloma, a 12 year old girl who lives in the building. In alternating voices, their observations about people, time, beauty and the meaning of life move the story forward and they come together in an unlikely friendship which blossoms when a new tenant moves into the building.
Within its 325 pages, this book is thought-provoking, funny and heart-wrenching. The Elegance of the Hedgehog is a captivating read for those who are drawn to beauty, philosophy, art and Parisian life.
"In the split second while I saw the stem and the bud drop to the counter I intuited the essence of Beauty. Yes, here I am, a little twelve-and-a-half-year-old brat, and I have been incredibly lucky because this morning all the conditions were ripe: an empty mind, a calm house, lovely roses, a rosebud dropping. And that is why I thought of Ronsard's poem, though I didn't really understand it at first: because he talks about time, and roses. Because beauty consists of its own passing, just as we reach for it. It's the ephemeral configuration of things in the moment, when you can see both their beauty and their death." (page 272)
Title: The Elegance of the Hedgehog
Author: Muriel Barbery
Translated from the French by: Alison Anderson
Publisher: Editions Gallimard (2006); Europa Editions (2008)
Price: US $15, Canada $18.50 (Paperback)
Number of Pages: 325