THE ELEGANCE OF THE HEDGEHOG by Muriel Barbery
According to 12-year old Paloma, Renee Michel, her building’s middle-aged concierge, is like the hedgehog: “a deceptively indolent little creature, fiercely solitary –and terribly elegant.” Paloma and Renee are the protagonists of this little hedgehog of a book, with its simple tale of an autodidactic concierge and a hypersensitive adolescent and their observations of their buildings tenants, observations they make while going practically unnoticed themselves. It’s a bit of a sweet, touching fable, with philosophy that in the hands of a pop psychologist could be converted into a self-help book for those not willing to acknowledge their own worth—or in pop psychology terms, people with low self-esteem issues. From Paloma telling us that she would find her sister’s appreciation of the mating habits of queen bees disturbing if she were her boyfriend to Renee deploring the overuse of the comma in expressing oneself, the book needs to be read in small doses to absorb Renee and Paloma’s streams of consciousness. For the action driven, the book lags in plot until the last third, when it takes off in a heartbreaking and nonetheless uplifting conclusion. Oddly reminiscent of another French winner, The Little Prince, only even more complex in its simplicity.