A friend said it was the best book she’s read in a long time, so I took The Elegance of the Hedgehog on my vacation – seemed perfect, nice little paperback to travel easy with plenty of time to read. After a couple of chapters I was not feeling the same love as my friend, but I was stuck in a hotel room with only that book, so I plodded on. I’m glad I did. Author Muriel Barbery has crafted a novel that is really a work of philosophy – definitely not a beach read – but a gem for the soul. The beautiful language draws you into the story of middle-aged Madame Michael, “fat and ugly” as she calls herself, and the self-discovery of a 12-year old tenant in their Parisian apartment building. The chapters alternate between the wise Renee Michel, concierge to the wealthy residents of 7 Rue de Grenelle and precocious Paloma, who observes with biting wisdom her family and the trappings of the rich. The gentle plot of Madame’s simple life clothes her incite as she expounds on the meaning of life. The two characters exist separately in their building until they meet and discover their kindred souls.
While the elegance in the title refers to the beauty and tragedy of life, it could also be the elegance of the language. It is beautifully written, and the translator, Alison Anderson, also beautifully captures the author’s thoughts. Witty and wise, her ideas are a delight and you marvel at their truth.