There was a little sound, a sort of quivering in the air that went, “shhh” very very very quietly: a tiny rosebud on a little broken stem that dropped onto the counter. The moment it touched the surface it went “puff”, a “puff” of the ultrasonic variety, for the ears of mice alone, or for human ears when everything is very very very silent. I stopped there with my spoon in the air, totally transfixed. It was magnificent. But what was it that was so magnificent? I couldn’t get over it: it was just a little rosebud at the end of a broken stem, dropping onto the counter. And so?
The above passage gives you a small taste of The Elegance of the Hedgehog. If you are looking for a cohesive narrative that is strong on plot, look elsewhere. Hedgehog is more a book to be savored: full of philosophical ideas and prophetic ramblings.
Paloma and Renee both live in the same bourgeoise building–Renee is the concierge of the building whereas Paloma is the adolescent daughter of one of the tenants. Both Paloma and Renee are exceptionally wise and both attempt to hide it. Paloma believes herself to have more knowledge than her family and she finds life futile, which is why she is planning to kill herself on her thirteenth birthday. Renee is much older than Paloma but she believes that she must hide her knowledge from the building’s patrons, believing that a lowly concierge should not be familiar with Karl Marx or Anne Karenina. Renee tries to dumb herself down when speaking with others, but her narration gives her away to the reader immediately. Consider her following rumination:
At the door stands a courier, chewing on what must be a piece of gum for elephants, given the vigor and range of mandibular activity to which he is compelled.
The slight satire present, such as this little clip, had me in giggles. It made me love Renee and Paloma even more. Their pithy observations were refreshing compared to what I have read recently.
The Elegance of the Hedgehog is languorous. It’s one of those books that needs to be savored and digested slowly, but it is so worthwhile if you put in even the most minimal of efforts. Sometimes I find it difficult to read books that are not linear. Maybe I have grown lazy since graduating college. I had heard mixed reviews for this book–the general consensus was that it was slow going at first but once you get used to it, the story envelops you. I would concur. I found myself becoming more intrigued as the story went on. And eventually I was able to get used to Barbery’s style, which made Hedgehog a bit easier to embrace.
I will say without hesitation that Elegance of the Hedgehog will be included on my list of best books I have read this year–it is that good. We read it for my book club and although we have yet to discuss the book, I have a feeling not everyone appreciated it as much as I did. However, I would strongly recommend giving this book a chance. It is a true gem.