“L’Élégance du Hérisson” / “The Elegance of the Hedgehog” by Muriel Barbery (2006) – book review

Couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about for well nigh two thirds of this prizewinner. Found the philosophising overbearing, the pace annoying and the vocabulary quite frankly difficult en français.

Then all of a sudden the magic began to unfurl (probably around the time of the emergence of the new character) – and I became totally entranced. The whole story sweeps into a new place, to which I was willingly and utterly transported. The dénouement then becomes almost unbearable: I remember sitting in a coffee shop at the time of reading awaiting the then much younger Offspring, determined to get to the finish but quite unable to, as I had no blessed tissues in my bag (who ever does when you need them most) and terrified I was about to burst out into ugly sobs at any second. It’s a ‘must-persevere-to-the-end’ read.

Set not far from where I type now on the boulevard de Grenelle, the unexpectedly highly cultured concierge Renée reads Proust on the quiet, calls her pussy cat Léon in honour of Tolstoy and is secretly studying philosophy, while the people she is employed to serve look down their ignorant, snooty noses at her, quite unaware that appearances can be deceptive. Enter gifted child Paloma and the erudite Kakuro Ozu, and life suddenly takes on a whole new meaning….

Winner of an armchair full of accolades, the book was also translated into a cracking film starring Josiane Balasko, who does a jolly good job of conveying Mme Michel. And rendered memorable in our household due to my completely ruining the key moment at the cinema with my daughter, with the old anticipatory body language giving everything away, just like when we watched “One Day” and I put my hand over her eyes ten seconds before THAT moment and blew the gaff – it is any wonder I am sent off on my own to the cinema…

Read in 2007.

Rating : 10/10

Prix George Brassens 2006, Prix des Libraires 2007, Prix de l’Armitière de Rouen 2007, Prix Rotary 2007…

Images taken from here and here.
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8 Responses to “L’Élégance du Hérisson” / “The Elegance of the Hedgehog” by Muriel Barbery (2006) – book review

  1. Carola Moretti says:

    Sono completamente d’accordo! L’ho letto in Italiano qualche anno fa e ho avuto le stesse reazioni. Mi piacerebbe tantissimo leggere qualche sua recensione su libri di autori italiani. Potrebbe essere un progetto per il futuro?
    Un’ammiratrice di Milano!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hello Carola, grazie mille – grandi menti ??! Purtroppo ho letto MOLTO meno in italiano, ma ci proverò, poi ci sono ancora tanti libri in italiano sulla mensola qui a casa a scoprire…. Veronesi, Ammaniti, Mazzantini…ci manca solo il tempo!!! A presto, grazie per qualche titolo da consigliare. Nicolax


  3. Monique P says:

    Absolutely loved the book! what did it for me was the relationship between Kakoru Ozu and Mme Michel, so poetic. I also enjoyed the philosophy aspect, reminded me of my Terminale when we were discussing philosophical issues… As you say in the film Josiane Balasko as Mme Michel is a very good choice. For your information the building where Mme Michel was supposed to be a concierge is near Passy, in the 16th art, 2, rue Eugène Manuel (not Jeanine!). When I lived nearby I used to take visitors there, it’s such a beautiful building, very “parisien” and we could easily imagine Mme Michel coming out of her “loge”.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi Monique, thank you so much for this!! – I will definitely go and stalk rue Eugène Manuel. I think this book touched a chord with so many French readers because of the philosophising and intellectual style, which you are all naturally so good at. I have succumbed and bought her latest, “La Vie des Elfes”, which looks likes M.B. has taken a completely different direction from this and the Gourmandise novel. Deep sigh – how to read everything, in what order…. Any recent recommendations to make it even worse? Bon weekend, Nx


  5. Monique P says:

    Hi Nicola, seems I have been on your blog for hours! nice way to communicate… have read the latest Haruki Murakami “Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage”. Am a fan of Murakami, so probably biased, but for me it has interesting ingredients: where is life taking you, what happened to your childhood/teen years dreams, and some fantasy, not quite real episodes that are very “Murakamian”
    week end half way gone here, xx

    Liked by 1 person

  6. It’s just great! especially with you being so far away. I have read the IQ84 series and a couple of others, but still a lot more to cross off those lists for this author – adding “Colorless” – whatever did happen to those childhood dreams, eh! Bon weekend xx


  7. Radhika says:

    I loved the book, but why did it have to end that way…?


  8. Pingback: Book Group I – Paris Evening Group | Literary ramblings etc

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