The Elegance of the Hedgehog is, in short, a book about the surprising aspects of human nature. No one would, as a matter of course describe a hedgehog as elegant. It’s simply not what one would expect from a hedgehog. In much the same way, no one would anticipate Renee, an older than middle aged concierge working in Paris to be drenched in cultural sensitivity and to be an emblem of fine taste and sophistication, both philosophical and practical. Nor would one expect Paloma, a 12 year old girl with remarkable insight and a strong admiration for Japanese beauty and simplicity to be lucidly suicidal. And yet, these are our two protagonists. We are allowed into their worlds and are invited to try and understand their intrinsic flaws and beauties.
With the entrance of Monsieur Ozu, the third central character of this story, our Renee and Paloma learn about love, friendship, and acceptance. They gain an understanding and an intimate knowledge of life that they had not previously grasped.
This story is both heart warming and heart breaking. There are many lessons that our characters learn and many moments for us as readers to delight in their growth. We are reminded of the absolute certainty of death and in this context, tormented with the gravity of the meaning of the word ‘never.’
The characters that Muriel Barbery creates are likeable, if not always credible and realistic. I found that there were times where indulgent and unnecessary interludes of philosophical commentary interrupted the flow of the story and the realisation of plot, but I persevered. I recommend that you do the same because once you persist through the thoroughly articulate implications raised within these passages, that resemble an undergraduate essay more than a fictional story, I am sure you will be able to enjoy this extremely well written read as I did.