Tag: Josiane Balasko

The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery

Posted December 2, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Contemporary / 3 Comments

The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel BarberyTitle: The Elegance of the Hedgehog (Goodreads)
, 2006
Pages: 325
Buy: AmazonBook Depository (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

Renée Michel is a concierge for an upscale apartment building that is inhabited by bourgeois families. Renée is an intelligent autodidact that hides herself from the residents of this elegant apartment, trying to confirm every stereotype they might have towards a concierge. However a precocious girl named Paloma suspects there is something more about Renée. When a wealthy Japanese business man moves into the building, he sees right through the concierge’s façade and tries to befriend her for some intellectual conversations.

The Elegance of the Hedgehog is a highly successful novel by Muriel Barbery who obtained her agrégation in philosophy before becoming a professor for the Université de Bourgogne. The publication I read was a Europia edition that was translated by novelist and Literary translator Alison Anderson. L’Élégance du hérisson was translated into more than forty languages and has also been adapted into the 2009 movie The Hedgehog (Le hérisson) staring Josiane Balasko, Garance Le Guillermic and Togo Igawa.

This novel is full of allusions towards works of literature, music, films, and paintings, which is one of the reasons I loved this book. While it might come across as pretentious and somewhat cynical The Elegance of the Hedgehog plays a lot with the ideas of stereotypes, class-consciousness and acceptance. A philosophical novel that explores ideas of how we present ourselves to the world and if we should pretend to be someone different, if that is what others expect from you.

There are plenty of philosophical ideas running through this novel that presents different ideologies, Muriel Barbery has stated that literature is an effective way to explore philosophy. Having sat through plenty of long and boring philosophy classes she wanted a way to explore the ideas in a more effective and interesting way. I suspect people can get lost in the pretentious nature of this book but also the ending; however I think it was a fitting ending for the novel.

I found The Elegance of the Hedgehog to be a beautiful, if not recherché little novel and I enjoyed every moment of it. I wanted to turn back to page one and start again; I think there is plenty within this book to offer its readers. If you pay close attention to the book you might also notice that most of the book was told in a first person, present day nature that makes for a fresh look at the story that I didn’t notice till near the end. I know I should have paid more attention but this is one of the main reasons I wanted to re-read the book.

Lovers of philosophy and literature would love this book but also anyone interested in Marxism.  I know I didn’t talk much about the class struggle within the book but that is because I have much to learn in this area. The Elegance of the Hedgehog is an intelligent novel, full of references to literature, witty and smart humour with a satirical nature. The way this French novel translates into an elegant English novel is a testimony to Alison Anderson’s ability but she had a great piece of literature to work with. I would highly recommend this novel to everyone but maybe that isn’t a good idea, I think you have to be in the right frame of mind or mood to truly enjoy this book.