The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
Honestly, this book made me feel smart to be reading it. It started out on the very first page using vocabulary words I--a decidedly voracious reader--didn't recognize, and persisted in this style until the end. However, being the persistent and somewhat proud English major I am, I returned the book to the library when it was due and then checked it out again.
Honestly, I have to say that I didn't like the primary narrator, Renée. She seemed stuck up, self-absorbed by her own refinement in spite of her lowly societal class as a concierge in an apartment building, and therefore pretty boring. What really kept me reading were the chapters by Paloma, the twelve-year-old genius who decides at the very beginning of the book to kill herself on her 13th birthday and then spends the rest of the book writing observations about the world that will convince her otherwise. Maybe it's because I could relate to her scorn of the world around her--I was a fairly mature twelve-year-old myself--but even when I did not agree with her condescension, I understood and respected it. The difference between Paloma and Renée is that Paloma's observations seemed fresh and genuine, while Renée's seemed tired and repetitive.
Nevertheless, I did become increasingly engaged as both characters began to interact with the new Japanese tenant, Ozu. And then, just as I finally felt as though I had overcome the stodgy vocabulary and was actually enjoying the narrative, the book comes to an abrupt and disappointing end! (I won't reveal it here, because if I had known how the book would end, I'd never have persisted past the first chapter. So I don't want to ruin anyone else's experience with an unwanted spoiler.)
If I had to do it over again, I probably wouldn't read this book. However, having successfully finished it, I feel as though I have finally read something scholarly for perhaps the first or second time since graduating from college, and I won't complain about that!
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