18 November 2009

Review: The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery

I had heard about this book probably around the time when it was at on the New York Times' best seller list. To be honest, I'm not entirely sure when I first heard of it. But I first gained interest in it when I heard it reviewed on the Diane Rehm show way back in April. (As you may recall, her show is one of my favorite things.) I don't usually listen to her show these days due to scheduling conflicts, but I happened to catch that hour that particular day because I drove myself to work instead of riding with Karina. (Come to think of it, it was because we had family pictures that afternoon, and I had to leave work early.)

Anyway, the book was on my to-read list since April, and I finally read it.

I give it 3.5 stars. (By the way, GoodReads admin folks, why don't you allow me to give half stars?)

The story is primarily told by Renee, a concierge at a ritzy apartment building in Paris, and how she is incredibly bright and well-read but seeks to hide this from the residents. The story is also told by Paloma, a rather intelligent twelve-year-old girl who plans to burn down her family's apartment and commit suicide on her thirteenth birthday. (Charming, no?) Eventually a third very important person comes into the novel. He is Japanese and represents all that is dignified and wonderful that the other residents of the apartments are not.

I felt like I was really trudging through this book until about the last 100 pages. And then in the last 20 pages I didn't want it to end. As you may remember, the two most important things to me in a book are a captivating plot and understandable characters. The Elegance of the Hedgehog had the characters. I really liked Barbery's characterization (even when I didn't like the characters). The plot was very lacking for me, though.

With that said, it is important to note that the writing is very beautiful, although a little pretentious, which is also a good adjective for Renee and Paloma. I found it hard to really like them when they despised everyone around them, even if everyone around them deserves to be despised. It wasn't just that they thought they were better than everyone around them, but I felt like they thought they were better than me too. I don't think that was Barbery's objective.

Overall, I liked this book. I didn't love it. It probably won't make it into my top ten list at the end of the year.


Packrat said...

Thank you for the review. The title was so intriguing that I wondered about this book. Now it will go on my "maybe" list.

heidikins said...

I absolutely loved this book--yes, it was slow. But I loved all the descriptions and life tid bits. LOVED them.


Jenny said...

Is this a YA fiction?