Wednesday 28 March 2018

Devouring Books: The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery

The Elegance of the Hedgehog has been lurking on my shelves for years and years. I can't even remember buying it (although that's the case with many of my books if I'm being completely honest), and I have even lent it to a friend since owning it and GOTTEN IT BACK (this never happens- either the lending or the getting it back!) Still, I only read it as my Monthly Motif book for March, and after all this time, what did I think?


In many ways, it's like The Elegance of the Hedgehog was written for me. It's about feeling like a misfit because you appreciate art and philosophy and books, and to some extent about those things too. The book has two narrators- a concierge of a Parisian apartment building, who hides her intellectual leanings from her more 'learned' neighbours; and a depressed 12 year old who is, to her mind, too smart to live, and plans to kill herself on her 13th birthday. Yeah.

There are good things about this book. I like the idea of learning for yourself, and then keeping that learning (mostly) to yourself- the idea of knowledge for it's own sake is pretty appealing to me, the person who took Japanese lessons for no real reason. I also really like the Japanese neighbour (you will know what I'm talking about if you've read this, I reckon), and I had no problem getting through it. I feel as though I'm struggling to find nice things to say about it, even though as I was reading it, I was having a pretty good time! I think that distance has made me, well. A little eye-rolly about it all.

Here's the thing. This book has a character who is TWELVE but wants to die cause the world is so, like prosaic and no one is smart enough for her and I don't know, probably other reasons. I had a hard time relating to her, not because suicide isn't a serious thing to deal with, but because SHE'S TWELVE. I had a hard time believing in her death wish, not even really because of her age, but because her 'reasons' were a little ridiculous. Try living a little, then come and see me, ok hun?

My other issue with the book is its pace. It clearly sets up the concierge and the teen as counterparts, misunderstood in different ways but both equally as intelligent. IT TAKES SO LONG TO GET THEM TOGETHER, and by then the book is basically over and so we don't really get to see their relationship grow. The ending annoyed me, but what especially annoyed me was that it assumes a deeper relationship between the two than we actually see happen in the book. Had they hung out more throughout the novel, I feel as though I would have been touched deeper, and it would have better achieved what (I think) it sets out to do.

Basically, this book was fine. It just wasn't great. I probably could have picked a whole load of other books for this month's challenge theme (and, in fact, I think I've read a few that meet the 'other country' criteria!) but hey, it gets another book of my shelves, right? Right.


  1. When I read this book, I was also super-frustrated with the insufferable 12 year old, but in general really liked the relationship between the concierge and the new tenant. Then a few years lapsed and someone gave me the audio book and I thought, Why not? So I listened to it and to my surprise found myself caring more for the characters overall than I did with my first reading.I don't know what the reading culture is like in the UK, but here in the US, I'm thankful for this book becoming a bestseller because any time a book in translation hits the bestseller lists here, I cheer. Myopic American readers getting a little more kultur.

  2. Yessssssssss to all of this. It wasn't terrible but man that twelve year old