Book #04 - Elegance of the Hedgehog
Name of the Book: Elegance of the Hedgehog / L’Élégance du hérisson / Die Eleganz des Igels
Name of the Author: Muriel Barbery
Genre: Philosophical, Slice of Life
Date: 16.09.2012 – 23.09.2012
Short description: (Do not read Amazon or Wikipedia. They both give away a plottwist that is too enjoyable to have it spoiled that way.) The fiftyfour year old Renee has one great ambition: to fit society’s mold. In her case, to play the role of a simpleminded, grumpy and uncultivated old widow while she is characterwise probably the complete contrary, with a vivid mind that has a sense for the absurdities of live and society, and a unadorned view on her surroundings. And then there is the young girl of a rich family, that has lead her life hiding in her own mind, hiding the fact that she is highly gifted for the sole reason, that it would make her life more miserable than it already is: living in a family she cannot relate to in a society that seems to have her future paved out before her. This book tells their struggles to find ones place in society and in life – and how one little change can upend ones life.
Own Statement: The book is something different. It is a book that will make you laugh, it will make you feel depressed, it will make you stronger and it will make you doubtful – and most of all this book will leave you with a new awareness to yourself and your life. There are two first person narrators: a twelve year old girl and a fiftyfour year old woman. Both live under the same roof of a grand Parisian apartment building, but while the girl is the black sheep of her dysfunctional rich family, the old woman is giving her all to play the role of the uncultivated, cliché overloaded concierge. The thing both characters, which don’t even see or acknowledge each other until the later half of the book, share is their above-standard intelligence and their critical view on society and life. While one of them seems to desperately search for something beautiful in, the other seems to have fathomed all of it, seeing through all kinds of stereotypes and completely given up on it in her way. And the narrator, having studied philosophy, understands to use this contrast to her advantage. Many chapters deal with critique of society without losing touch of the characters background, leaving it to the reader to sort out which ideas he can relate to and to find the grains of salt in them that he wants to keep and take as true. There are thoughts on small matters (such as cats) and grave matters (such as suicide). The book has a unexpected wide range of topics, and this alone is something a reader with a flexible mind will enjoy (especially so if you have a taste for japanese culture and for works of philosophy and psychology, such as Kant). But there is another level to this book that makes you want to read your eyes out. It’s the very elegant way in which the story is told, how both narrations seem to compliment each other, how through all the thoughts of people of such different lives there is still the read thread of a plot woven in there, sometimes more sometimes less important. This story progresses at different paces, sometimes seemingly rushing through the actions of characters and sometimes taking it’s time with small details and thoughts of characters to a point where it seems slightly unbalanced. Though I personally though that to be enjoyable, if a reader focuses solely on the plot he might be disappointed by it at first, but if he can pull through the later half will reward him with a sweet plot– and has a very, very unexpected end. Even after giving it some time to settle, I’m still torn weather I absolutely adore the ending or if I completely detest it. In General I think that book is something to read when you have time to indulge in it, when you have the time and the freedom to let your mind follow the narrators’ thoughts and ideas. I’d also say that it is majorly written for a grown up audience with a passing knowledge of philosophy (Though worry not, very passing is fine. Most ideas are explained in the book). That being said, I at least have to mention in the passing, that while I highly love that book, there are also a lot of people who thought it to be difficult to read, to find the book overflowing with complicated topics, to find the characters not well fleshed out and to find the plot rather shallow. I don’t agree with that, though I see where most people to complain about the plot come from. Just so you know.