Monday, March 10, 2014

A Book Review:: The Elegance of the Hedgehog

I've been plowing through books lately.  A couple of days ago, I finished this one, and the glazed-over look in my dear hubby's eyes while I was reeling verbally about the heartbreak I just went through made a little light bulb go off over my head...I'll blog a review so that I spare him the details and maybe convince someone else to read this book.  Alas, here we sit.

Hedgehog admittedly started very slowly.  I often find that it takes me a couple of chapters to get into the rhythm of a new book, and this was especially true in this case.  First of all, it is translated from French.  Very well, yet it still had a few of those, "what did I just read?" moments in which I had to reread an entire page.  Second, it would seem that Ms. Barbery sat with thesaurus in hand while she authored this book, using only the largest words available.  Now, I'm a smart cookie, but there were some humdingers in this novel for sure!  Also, some of the philosophy introduced throughout the book was mind-bending, but wonderful all the same!  Once I was thoroughly into meeting the two main protagonists and their plights, I was hooked and could not put this book down.

Without any spoilers, I'll give you a brief synopsis of the story:

The book is written from two perspectives; the first being that of Renee Michel, a 54-year-old concierge of a very upscale condo building in France, and the second being that of Paloma Josse, a 12-year-old resident of said condo building.  Both ladies are absolute brilliant minds.  Renee is self-taught, and has a vast knowledge of all things art, film, and literature.  Paloma is a natural genius who downplays her intelligence so as not to draw attention to herself...she is the solitary type.

Renee comes from a very poor upbringing in a family that never expressed any love...or any emotion really.  All of her life, she's best been described as plain, and at worst, ugly.  Although she is passionate about all things Art, she never aspires to anything beyond her inherited social status, hence the concierge position.  She spends her entire life hiding her intelligence and passions...because a concierge is only expected to serve others and watch soap operas.

Paloma is obviously from a ridiculously wealthy family of high standing, and has never wanted for anything.  She, however, sees no advantage to this, and instead is disgusted with the facades that the vast majority of the people in her social stratosphere wear.  The constant pursuit of wealth and status of those around her is depressing, and she doesn't believe that life is worth living anymore in such a world void of Beauty and Art.  So she decides that she will end her life on her thirteenth birthday.

As you'd imagine, these two heroines need each other.  And when a new resident takes ownership of a vacant condo, his unique ability to see right through everyone's masks brings them into a sweet little triangle of friendship.

That's all I can really tell you without giving anything away.  So many deep, profound "ah-ha!" moments are to be had throughout this book.  And, for me, so many sadly relatable moments, too.  I found the book to be very enlightening to the human spirit, and human nature.  The ending was completely unpredictable, and it made me cry a little...I'm not afraid to admit that.  Even so, it was worth the read.  

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