Book Review: “The Elegance of the Hedgehog”

hedgehog-erinaceus-europaeus-tiny{Spoiler alert if you haven’t read the book yet. Save this post for another time so you can share your thoughts with me.}

I read it. Twice. I read it all the way through really fast like I do and then I read it again to allow the flavor of certain phrases and thoughts to mellow and grow.

I loved it. I hated it.

The ending didn’t change the second time I read it, and for that I am really, really upset! The last scene is forever indelibly etched in my brain.

I was rooting for both of the major characters. I wanted Paloma to find her power as an intelligent and witty young girl and want to live, and I urged Renee to realize how brilliant she was and how she deserved love, and that even in our fifties, we can feel special.

What I didn’t expect was the end. I never saw it coming, just like Renee never saw the drycleaner’s van before it hit her. And that’s it. No hospital, no recovery, no happy conclusion with all the loose ends tied up in a pretty pink polka dot bow. I like my stories delivered to me with happily ever afters. I don’t like to fall in love with a character who feels like a real person and then have her torn away from me!

Paloma contemplated suicide, but will blossom like the camellias Renee grew. Renee died the moment she found a reason to live.

It was released as a film, “The Hedgehog” in 2011. It’s on Netflix and I’ll watch it tomorrow, ‘cos tonight’s “Downton Abbey“. It’s not like I don’t know how it ENDS!

FINAL THOUGHTS: I loved it. I hated it. It was totally worth reading. Twice.
What did YOU think?

Parts of the following synopsis is partly from The New York Times By CARYN JAMES and is partly by me.

By Muriel Barbery and translated by Alison Anderson, “The Elegance of the Hedgehog” was a best seller in France and several other countries. The novel’s two narrators alternate chapters, but the book is dominated by Renée, a widowed concierge in her 50s who calls herself “short, ugly and plump,” a self-consciously stereotypical working-class nobody. She is also an autodidact — “a permanent traitor to my archetype,” as she drolly puts it — who takes refuge in aesthetics and ideas but thinks life will be easier if she never lets her knowledge show.

Her unlikely counterpart is Paloma, a precocious 12-year-old whose family lives in the fashionable building Renée cares for. Paloma believes the world is so meaningless that she plans to commit suicide when she turns 13.

Renée’s story is addressed to no one, while Paloma’s takes the form of a notebook crammed with what she labels “profound thoughts.” Both create eloquent little essays on time, beauty and the meaning of life, Renée with erudition and Paloma with adolescent brio.

Both skewer the class-conscious people in the building: Paloma observes the inanity of her parents and her sister while Renée knows that such supposedly bright lights never see past the net shopping bag she carries, its epicurean food hidden beneath turnips. Both appreciate beauty. What Renée calls “a suspension of time that is the sign of a great illumination,” Paloma experiences while watching a rosebud fall.

The sharp-eyed Paloma guesses that Renée has “the same simple refinement as the hedgehog,” quills on the outside but “fiercely solitary — and terribly elegant” within.  The lives of both characters perk up when the rich, mysterious, charmingly attentive Mr. Ozu moves into the building. Not only does he completely renovate his apartment, he does virtually the same to Renee, bringing her new clothes, a new friendship, and a raison d’etre.

A daughter-in-law dedication

My Saturday in SoCal has not been nearly as eventful as this. My son sent these pics from New Haven where he went cross country skiing in thirty-eight inches of snow. I hope everyone is OK and hasn’t lost power or anything!

This is my 200th post–what a milestone! It seems only right that I dedicate this to S, my DIL. She badgered encouraged me to blog, to share my thoughts and snarky commentary (and not bug her and my son so much??) and it was my son who set up the WP account. (I’ll save those accolades for his March birthday post-plenty of time to get your hankies washed, ironed, and perfumed–they’ll be drenched with tears. A mommy’s love is fierce, y’all. Just a warning.) 

miljokeI hope I’m not a bad MIL. I had two of the worst mothers-in-law you could imagine-three if you count my tugboat man’s evil stepmother. The first one wasn’t really that bad; she suffered from a lot of medical problems so I’ll give her a pass for that reason-but she was just a precursor, a forerunner to a doozy of a bitch. Hub’s mom; a laconic thrower of backhanded one-liners–a future post’ll share some of my most memorable experiences.

MIL noteHopefully, that’s taught me not to be SO terrible, but as mom of an only child who happens to be a son whose nickname is Angel Boy and on whom the sun rises and sets, you can bet there needs to be a bit of benevolence, compassion, understanding, and sensitivity on both sides. There’s a def learning curve.

(I’m sure she fondly remembers our house rule of “no cohabitation without documentation” before they were married.)

S has a great sense of humor and a highly developed wit–a great way to deal with a MIL! Right, S?

Although she did recommend I watch “Monster-in-Law”…do you think she was subtly trying to tell me something?

Is my DIL trying to tell me something?

Is my DIL trying to tell me something?

S is London-born with a Ph.D. in Neuroscience from Brown. She’s opened up my world to lots of cool things like Absolutely Fabulous, Gossip Girl, and Downton Abbey. She’s a girly girl in addition to all that brain power. We’ve had a lot of fun together: shopping, getting manis, and making candles. I never had a girl child so it’s been a lot of fun doing things that my mom and I did. As a family, we’ve all gone hiking and camping together–it was DIL who taught me how to “pop a squat”–a skill that’s come in handy more times than I care to mention!

I can’t share what she does-YET-but as soon as I can, you can be sure I’ll shout it to the heavens with PRIDE!

DIL earned a special title.

Isn't she totes adorbs?

Isn’t she totes adorbs?

When she calls (which she should do more often), I’m alerted by the screen telling me it’s Angel Girl.

Thank you, DIL!