Reviews for Elegance of the Hedgehog


Booklist Reviews 2008 August #1
In a bourgeois apartment building in Paris, we encounter Renée, an intelligent, philosophical, and cultured concierge who masks herself as the stereotypical uneducated “super” to avoid suspicion from the building's pretentious inhabitants. Also living in the building is Paloma, the adolescent daughter of a parliamentarian, who has decided to commit suicide on her thirteenth birthday because she cannot bear to live among the rich. Although they are passing strangers, it is through Renée's observations and Paloma's journal entries that The Elegance of the Hedgehog reveals the absurd lives of the wealthy. That is until a Japanese businessman moves into the building and brings the two characters together. A critical success in France, the novel may strike a different chord with some readers in the U.S. The plot thins at moments and is supplanted with philosophical discourse on culture, the ruling class, and the injustices done to the poor, leaving the reader enlightened on Kant but disappointed with the story at hand. Copyright 2006 Booklist Reviews.

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Kirkus Reviews 2008 July #1
The second novel (but first to be published in the United States) from France-based author Barbery teaches philosophical lessons by shrewdly exposing rich secret lives hidden beneath conventional exteriors.Rene Michel has been the concierge at an apartment building in Paris for 27 years. Uneducated, widowed, ugly, short and plump, she looks like any other French apartment-house janitor, but Mme Michel is by no means what she seems. A "proletarian autodidact," she has broad cultural appetites--for the writings of Marx and Kant, the novels of Tolstoy, the films of Ozu and Wenders. She ponders philosophical questions and holds scathing opinions about some of the wealthy tenants of the apartments she maintains, but she is careful to keep her intelligence concealed, having learned from her sister's experience the dangers of using her mind in defiance of her class. Similarly, 12-year-old Paloma Josse, daughter of one of the well-connected tenant families, shields her erudition, philosophical inclinations, criticism--and also her dreams of suicide. But when a new Japanese tenant, Kakuro Ozu, moves in, everything changes for both females. He detects their intelligence and invites them into his cultured life. Curious and deeply fulfilling friendships blossom among the three, offering Paloma and Rene freedom from the mental prisons confining them.With its refined taste and political perspective, this is an elegant, light-spirited and very European adult fable. Copyright Kirkus 2008 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.

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Library Journal Reviews 2008 June #2

Published in France in 2006, this work quickly captured the European imagination, and the advance praise is sufficiently glowing to guarantee attention in the English-speaking world. The novel itself is more problematic. Philosophy professor Barbery--the author of one previous novel, Une gourmandise --has fashioned a slow and sentimental fable out of her own personal interests--art, philosophy, and Japanese culture--about a widow who serves as caretaker of a Parisian apartment building and a troubled girl living in the building. Barbery attempts to make the story appear more cutting-edge by introducing dizzying changes in typography, but the effect seems precious from the outset and quickly grow tiresome. Recommended for public libraries where literature in translation is in demand and for academic libraries to complement their French collections.--Sam Popowich, Univ. of Ottawa Lib., Ont.

[Page 53]. Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.

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Publishers Weekly Reviews 2008 May #3

This dark but redemptive novel, an international bestseller, marks the debut in English of Normandy philosophy professor Barbery. Rene Michel, 54 and widowed, is the stolid concierge in an elegant Paris htel particulier . Though "short, ugly, and plump," Rene has, as she says, "always been poor," but she has a secret: she's a ferocious autodidact who's better versed in literature and the arts than any of the building's snobby residents. Meanwhile, "supersmart" 12-year-old Paloma Josse, who switches off narration with Rene, lives in the building with her wealthy, liberal family. Having grasped life's futility early on, Paloma plans to commit suicide on her 13th birthday. The arrival of a new tenant, Kakuro Ozu, who befriends both the young pessimist and the concierge alike, sets up their possible transformations. By turns very funny (particularly in Paloma's sections) and heartbreaking, Barbery never allows either of her dour narrators to get too cerebral or too sentimental. Her simple plot and sudden denouement add up to a great deal more than the sum of their parts. (Sept.)

[Page 30]. Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.

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