The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery

The Elegance of the HedgehogElegance of the Hedgehog was a selection for my book club. I never wanted to read this book. I felt it would be too anecdotal and not enough plot for my taste. This is what I love about book club (aside from my friends and the food)—it gets me reading books I would not normally choose to read. I decided to listen to the audio book so this review is based on that version of the book. The audiobook is delightful.

The novel takes place in a high end Paris apartment building with the narrative alternating between precociously intelligent 12-year old Paloma and Renée the grumpy concierge. We learn very quickly that these narrators are not who they seem to be. Both have an appreciation of the finer things in life. This not only includes tangible pieces of fine art but also philosophy and Japanese culture. Paloma, tired of living amongst those who will never understand her, decides to commit suicide on her 13th birthday.

Renée takes pleasure in deceiving her witless employers who believe her to be a simple, pedestrian concierge. All of this changes when a mysterious Japanese gentleman, Ozu, moves in the building. He befriends Paloma whose admiration of Japanese culture breaks down any of the usual barriers she so deftly constructs. He sees through Renée’s guise and becomes determined to spend more time with her since they have so much in common. Through Ozu, Renée and Paloma discover each other and these kindred spirits existing under the same roof for years, become fast friends and allies against the gauche residents.

What I thought was to be an artsy, disjointed book is really very heartwarming and humorous. For the audio book two readers give life to Renée and Paloma which to me, makes the characters real. So if you are on the fence about reading this book, or appreciate a really well done audio book, give this a listen!

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