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The Elegance of the Hedgehog Paperback – September 2, 2008
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. This audio version of the surprise French bestseller hits the mark as both performance and story. The leisurely pace of the novel, which explores the upstairs-downstairs goings-on of a posh Parisian apartment building, lends itself well to audio, and those who might have been tempted to skip through the novel's more laborious philosophical passages (the author is a professor of philosophy) will savor these ruminations when read aloud. Tony Award–winning actress Barbara Rosenblat positively embodies the concierge, Renée Michel, who deliberately hides her radiant intelligence from the upper-crust residents of 7 rue de Grenelle, and the performance of Cassandra Morris as the precocious girl who recognizes Renée as a kindred spirit is nothing short of a revelation. Morris's voice, inflection and timbre all conspire to make the performance entirely believable. A Europa paperback. (June)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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. --Heather Paulson
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Top Customer Reviews
This is a very remarkable book, full of deep (but not pretentious) philosophical rumination disguised as the day-to-day trivialities of life in an unremarkable apartment building in Paris.
Also, the translation is itself quite remarkable. What must have been very idiomatic French has been rendered as equally idiomatic English (American English, at that). Since I don't read French, I can't be certain about the accuracy of the translation, but I had to keep reminding myself that it was not originally written in English.
The ending aside, I loved this book and the message it conveyed. Seeing the world differently, seeing connections where others don't, is not necessarily a gift for the person so endowed. The gifted athlete is encouraged to excel but our school system, and society, too often press the gifted student toward mediocrity and despair. I see changes for the better but it is still early. Sharing an insight with someone who understands is a precious thing for a gifted individual. This book explores the depths of this unfortunate anomaly in the journals of two highly gifted individuals, an older woman and a young girl. The author's perception of the world, and the people in it, had me beside myself at times saying, "Precisely, well done!"
If you are gifted, or have a gifted child, I highly recommend this book; it won't disappoint. You will see much of what you have experienced come to life through this author's work.
In the story, Renée Michel and Paloma Josse are the two main characters, who although living in the same apartment building do not know about each other and how much they are alike until more than halfway through the book.
Renée Michel is a 54-year-old concierge from humble beginnings but with a developed mind and tastes who hides behind her vocation. Paloma is the 12-year-old, soon-to-be-13, who comes from a rich well-educated family; she despises her family, their snobbery, and the life she is being forced to live. Both Renée and Paloma concentrate and reflect on the nature of true beauty, art, and the meaning of life and death.
Without giving much about the plot, I can only say that when one of the tenants in the building die and his apartment is bought by a Japanese man who understands and befriends both ladies, and then the two learn about each other and connect. The story has a sad but poignant ending.
Although the novel has an immense amount of sophisticated cultural, philosophical, and enlightening thought, it also has a delicately balanced emotional side to it with gentle and reflective twists and turns and remarkably touching scenes at its end.
The story is written from the two viewpoints of Renée and Paloma. The viewpoints are in different chapters and in two different typefaces; thus, it is easy to know who is the speaker. The characters are wonderfully developed and in addition to the original theme of what makes life worth living, the themes of hypocrisy, class consciousness, and the importance of arts and letters in a life make this a unique novel.
I loved this novel for its delicateness yet at the same time its intensity and for its referrals to cultural icons and thoughts and the characters’ musings on them. There are some things about the characters that coincide with who I am. This, too, may be part of the reason why I enjoyed reading this book so much.