The Elegance of the Hedgehog- Muriel Barbery

Synopsis (from Amazon)

Renee is the concierge of a grand Parisian apartment building, home to members of the great and the good. Over the years she has maintained her carefully constructed persona as someone reliable but totally uncultivated, in keeping, she feels, with society s expectations of what a concierge should be. But beneath this façade lies the real Renée: passionate about culture and the arts, and more knowledgeable in many ways than her employers with their outwardly successful but emotionally void lives. Down in her lodge, apart from weekly visits by her one friend Manuela, Renée lives resigned to her lonely lot with only her cat for company. Meanwhile, several floors up, twelve-year-old Paloma Josse is determined to avoid the pampered and vacuous future laid out for her, and decides to end her life on her thirteenth birthday. But unknown to them both, the sudden death of one of their privileged neighbours will dramatically alter their lives forever.

Note on the synopsis

I don’t feel the above synopsis very well reflects the book that it describes, it makes it sound like some sort of mystery, which it certainly is not. However I am finding it impossible to write a better synopsis, so it will have to do.


You have to, have to, have to read this. And if you hate it blame me I don’t care. I have literally just finished and I had to rush to the computer before I forgot how much this book touched me. The characters are like, I can’t even describe it,  they really get in your head. It’s almost like their friends. And it’s amazing because you don’t feel like much is happening but at the same time you keep reading because you care so much. I must admit for a large chunk of the time I found Paloma irritating and kind of pretentious, but I grew to love her as she grew. Renne I found somewhat difficult to understand in terms of her motivation but at the same time I felt I knew her best, and I loved her [highlight for (major)spoiler]When she died I was broken hearts, I was shouting at the book for it not to be true, and I was close to tears. It was so unexpected at at the worst possible time (but maybe the best too). Kakuro was my favourite character though he made me laugh at moments when a laugh was needed, and  just generally. It touched me so touched me, it made me laugh and cry.

If you only like plot driven books however The Elegance of the Hedgehog may not be for you (as much as I hate to discourage everyone). Although there is a plot it doesn’t really play the main role in the book, that is more about the characters. Having said that the more plot driven sections were well done and perfectly placed, without destroying the overall pace of the book. From right near the begginning the tone reminded me of Jostein Gaarderr’s The Orange Girl in that both have a very philosophcal tone (it’s the only Gaarderr I have read but seeing as he is much a philosopher as a writer I am sure this is also true of his other novels). It was a beautifully written novel (and I have a soft spot for beautiful writing). Please, please, please do not give into temptation and stop reading if you do not feel much is happening, I assure you that by the end you will be hooked.


Apparently there has been a film made of this (which only seems to be available in Australia and New Zealand). I was hoping this would not happen. I cannot see how this book could be successfully adapted to the screen, it is too thought filled. I would be quite interested to see how they try though.


Filed under Contempory, Fiction review

13 responses to “The Elegance of the Hedgehog- Muriel Barbery

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  3. This is a really excellent review. I read Gourmet Rhapsody by Barbery and didn’t love it. Maybe I’ll have to give her another chance


  4. lucybirdbooks

    I was thinking of giving that one a try as I loved this one so much. I don’t actually know anything about it though!


  5. Besides that gorgeous cover, this sounds like a book I’d read in one sitting. It feels very atmospheric. Excellent review, I enjoyed it very much!


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  9. mesetageresenfranglais

    The book is in my pile to read but in French… I thought that being french, it would be better to read it in my language and it’s original language as well. It had so much success in France at the time. I will let you know what I thought of it.


  10. I think it probably is better it French, it has a certain poetic quality, and often some of that is lost in translation.


  11. mesetageresenfranglais

    This is true. And it is so hard sometimes when there are a few different translations to know which one to choose. I will let you know anyway when I read it!


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