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.

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A normal life…for now

It’s been a real treat having my tugboat captain home! He’s been here almost a month and we’re settling into our familiar routines. I know that any minute his cell’s gonna ring and he’ll be flying off to another assignment, but for now, I’m really enjoying the normal-ness of having him around.

Right before he gets here, I go through all the stress of getting me and the house ready, baking his favorites, and all that welcome home stuff.

When he arrives, there’s always an adjustment period–at least for me–retraining myself to keep the bathroom door closed, dealing with his mounds of laundry, and learning to share the bed. The grocery bill goes up about a thousand percent–it seems like he thinks he needs to eat EVERY SINGLE DAY-what’s up with that?

We like to read together, either in front of the fire or before going to sleep. I think that’s probably some of the most special and restoring times of all. It’s such a pleasure to read a few pages, look up, quietly make eye contact and smile, and resume reading.

When my son and DIL are here, and it’s quiet except for the turning of pages and perhaps a chuckle or two, I look around the family room and see all of the heads bowed over books–it’s some of my happiest family times.

The book hubs is currently reading is The Way Out by Craig Childs. He previously read The True Story of Water, a gift from my son. Craig Childs is a naturalist, adventurer, and desert ecologist. In this intensely dramatic narrative–the record of a perilous excursion into the wild–two men confront immutable forces of nature and the limits of their own sanity. Childs is lost. In a labyrinth of canyons in the American Southwest where virtually nothing else is alive– barely any vegetation, few signs of wildlife, scant traces of any human precursors in this landscape–Childs and his friend undertake a journey. With as much food and gear as they can carry, and little else but their wiles to help them traverse the inhospitable, unmappable terrain, the two men assume the life-or-death challenge of exploring this land–and then finding a way out. Equally gripping as their adventure in the wild is the parallel story, told in flashback, of what propelled the two men into these extreme circumstances.

I’m reading an exquisite novel, The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery, a bestseller in France. I’ve only just started it, and I’m still at the stage of being introduced to the characters so I don’t really have a grasp about what’s going on, but I’m getting pulled into the story, and that’s always a good thing. Has anyone else read this? It’s been out for a few years.

Finishing up the tugboat man’s interview–thank you for your questions–and a post about  grumpy old men.