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 The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbéry

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PostSubject: The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbéry   Thu Mar 25, 2010 12:24 pm

First things first: I love this novel. It is funny and intellectually challenging at the same time, and the writing is - imho - flawless.

The text is divided into sections, which are separated by both narrator and font. One the one hand, we meet Renée, the concierge of 7, Rue Grenelle, Paris - a very wealthy neighbourhood. Renée is highly intelligent, in fact, she is probably much smarter than all the other inhabitants of the house (with one, later two exceptions). She reads a lot, preferably Tolstoi. Her thoughts almost always take on a socially critical and / or philosophical turn. Renée is well aware of the people around her, and takes great pains to hide her smartness, in order to fulfil their expectations.

The second narrator is Paloma, the daughter of a wealthy family living in 7, Rue Grenelle. She is twelve years old and begins her narration by informing the reader that she is going to commit suicide on her thirteenth birthday. Like Renée, she is unusually intelligent, and the people around her are unable to understand her intricate and profound thoughts.

Enter Monsieur Ozu. He is not a narrator, but perhaps the most interesting character in the story. He befriends both Paloma and Renée because he is able to see through their disguise, and he attempts to establish a connection between them, too, but with little success overall. However, he succeeds in showing both women that they don't actually have to be alone, but that it is possible to connect to others.

I have rarely touched a book which (in turn) touched me on so many levels. Sometimes I laughed out loud. Sometimes I cried - sometimes simply because it was so beautifully written. The characters felt so real and so authentic to me that sometimes I caught myself mentally preparing a reply to one of them.

Of course, the novel is challenging. Especially Renée seems to expect a reader who is at the very least as well-read as she is (and she's read just about everything from Plato to Goethe). The ideas expressed during her narration sometimes forced me to put the text down and process the intellectual material before I was able to read on. I looked up many things, too. The funny thing is: I didn't actually notice. I was so keen on the story, I wanted to understand things - and if encyclopedias were the way, well, here I come.

I know the system is usually based on five stars, but just this one time I'd like to give six... Very Happy

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