Thursday, August 24, 2000

Book Review: The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery

The Elegance of the Hedgehog
Muriel Barbery
Adult, Fiction, Translation

I had this book in my possession for quite a while and then last month it was my bookclub's pick so I was motivated to dig it out of the pile and read.

Just so you know, the author is a professor and student of philosophy, so there is much mention and quoting of the theories of some of the philosophers of the world, both well-known and not so. Some in my bookclub found all that a bit abstruse and it took a while for them to get into the book.

I did not have that experience. I loved it from the get-go, philosophical musings and all. The story is pretty simple, really. There is an apartment building in Paris full of rich people. The Concierge, what we would call the Super or Building Manager, is a woman of no consequence in terms of class, but has a secret that she keeps from the people who live in the building. One of the tenants is a little girl who has become deeply cynical about the world because of the hypocrisy she sees all around her. The third main character is a new tenant to the building who changes everything.

To me the book is about seeing, perceiving and knowing people.  It is about how we respond to others based on our own experiences, desires, needs, wants and pain rather than based on what is actually happening at the moment of interaction. I loved the main characters and saw bits of myself in all three, for better and worse. I struggle with this idea of hiding parts of myself because I'm convinced that I will never be accepted or understood. I enjoyed the included philosophy texts and quotes. For me they fit the purpose of trying to sort out what is important and what only seems important. As I read the book, the answer to that question is that we must come to see and to value those around us for who they are, and it really boils down to being as simple as that for me. Thus, I found myself laughing, crying, thinking, wishing and hoping throughout the entire arc of the story.  I think I will read this one again to view the characters omnisciently and extract more detail from the events of the story. 

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