The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery

69%

24 Critic Reviews

Especially in the novel’s early stretch, Barbery, a professor of philosophy, seems too clever for her own good...Even when the novel is most essayistic, the narrators’ kinetic minds and engaging voices (in Alison Anderson’s fluent translation) propel us ahead.
-NY Times

Synopsis

Renee is the concierge of a grand Parisian apartment building, home to members of the great and the good. Over the years she has maintained her carefully constructed persona as someone reliable but totally uncultivated, in keeping, she feels, with society's expectations of what a concierge should be. But beneath this facade lies the real Renee: passionate about culture and the arts, and more knowledgeable in many ways than her employers with their outwardly successful but emotionally void lives. Down in her lodge, apart from weekly visits by her one friend Manuela, Renee lives resigned to her lonely lot with only her cat for company. Meanwhile, several floors up, twelve-year-old Paloma Josse is determined to avoid the pampered and vacuous future laid out for her, and decides to end her life on her thirteenth birthday. But unknown to them both, the sudden death of one of their privileged neighbours will dramatically alter their lives forever. By turn moving and hilarious, this unusual novel became the top-selling book in France in 2007 with sales of over 900,000 copies to-date.
 

About Muriel Barbery

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The Elegance of the Hedgehog is Muriel Barbery’s second novel. Her first book, Une gourmandize, has been translated into twelve languages. It will be published by Europa Editions in 2009.About the Translator Alison Anderson is the author of two novels, Hidden Latitudes and Darwin’s Wink. She has translated two novels by Sélim Nassib for Europa Editions, I Loved You for Your Voice and The Palestinian Lover.
 
Published September 2, 2008 by Europa Editions. 325 pages
Genres: Literature & Fiction. Fiction
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Critic reviews for The Elegance of the Hedgehog
All: 24 | Positive: 18 | Negative: 6

NY Times

Above average
Reviewed by Caryn James on Sep 05 2008

Especially in the novel’s early stretch, Barbery, a professor of philosophy, seems too clever for her own good...Even when the novel is most essayistic, the narrators’ kinetic minds and engaging voices (in Alison Anderson’s fluent translation) propel us ahead.

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Guardian

Above average
Reviewed by Ian Sansom on Oct 24 2008

Its appeal is obvious, as are its flaws. It's essentially a feel-good book with philosophical aspirations, a cast of charmingly eccentric characters, and a European city-break setting - private courtyards, restaurants, mysterious strangers.

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Guardian

Above average
Reviewed by VIv Groskop on Sep 13 2008

Despite its cutesy air of chocolate-box Paris, The Elegance of the Hedgehog is, by the end, quite radical in its stand against French classism and hypocrisy.

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Guardian

Above average
Reviewed by Philippa Lewis on Jul 18 2009

The philosophical musings mean that parts of it read more like a collection of essays than a novel, but Barbery makes her characters come to life and the result is a rich and moving, if occasionally sentimental, read.

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Guardian

Good
Reviewed by Ian Sansom on Oct 24 2008

You might as well buy it before someone recommends it for your book group. Its charm will make you say yes.

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Guardian

Good
Reviewed by VIv Groskop on Sep 13 2008

Clever, informative and moving, it is essentially a crash course in philosophy interwoven with a platonic love story. Though it wanders in places, this is an admirable novel which deserves as wide a readership here as it had in France.

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Financial Times

Good
Reviewed by Michele Roberts on Oct 13 2008

In France, this book is a bestseller. I can see why. Épater la bourgeoisie? No, the politics of May 1968 no longer apply. This novel consoles, finally, rather than unsettles. Everything falls back into place.

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The Independent

Below average
Reviewed by Robert Hanks on Oct 05 2008

...people who seem clever are just showing off. The book flatters the reader, offering reassurance that untutored instinct is truer than the opinions of so-called experts. Matters aren't helped much by Alison Anderson's translation, which too often mimics the structure of French sentences...

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The Telegraph

Below average
Reviewed by Beth Jones on Oct 12 2008

If it were a piece of furniture, it would be an Ikea bestseller: popular, but not likely to be passed down the generations.

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Christian Science Monitor

Above average
Reviewed by Yvonne Zipp on Oct 20 2008

Not all the insights are original (see: the serenity of tea), but “Hedgehog” definitely has its own elegance.

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Review (Barnes & Noble)

Above average
Reviewed by ALEXANDRA MULLEN on Sep 02 2008

I’d like to persuade myself that one of Barbery’s satirical targets was precisely the kind of sentimentality that takes over the last third of her book and that there’s one big profound message here.

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The New Zealand Herald

Good
Reviewed by Nicky Pellegrino on Jul 18 2010

Barbery has written a relentlessly interesting book filled with ruminations. She uses her story to celebrate art and deride French snobbery, yet at the same time manages to make it heart-warming, amusing and moving.

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The Blue Bookcase

Above average
Reviewed by Christina on Sep 03 2011

Be prepared for that slow beginning. Pick this one up when you're in the mood for some, like, Deep Thoughts, man. The author is a Philosophy Prof, and it shows.

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https://rhapsodyinbooks.wordpress.com

Above average
on Jan 27 2010

The story starts slow; it did not pick up for me until Kakuro Ozu entered the equation. From that point on, there was less pontification and more plot.

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Caribous Mom

Good
Reviewed by Wendy on Jul 19 2009

The Elegance of the Hedgehog is a simple story that explores complex ideas and leaves the reader fulfilled. Highly recommended.

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Entomology of a Bookworm

Above average
on Dec 21 2011

The slow pace and bittersweet nature of the story itself don't make for entirely uplifting reading, but the story itself is both hopeful and fulfilling. Just be sure to read with pen in hand, because there are innumerable passages here you'll want to remember.

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The Novel Life

Excellent
Reviewed by Stacy on Nov 13 2013

A tour de force, literary masterpiece that should be read and savored. . .with copious amounts of hot tea.

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Book Coasters

Above average
Reviewed by Vicky on Dec 01 2009

At times I was tempted to skip through the more laborious philosophical passages but the plot gains momentum following the sudden death of one of the privileged neighbours and the arrival of Monsieur Ozu...

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Literary Corner Cafe Blog

Good
on Jun 18 2011

Recommended: Yes, if you can stand the book’s early interior monologues and like Renée’s formal language. And the book is sentimental, despite the intellectualism of its characters, however the loveliness of the characters offsets most of the saccharine sweetness.

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http://mostlyfiction.com

Good
Reviewed by Mary Whipple on Sep 18 2008

Thoughtful, ironic, and often darkly humorous, the novel creates moods which bring the characters vividly to life, even as they are contemplating the deepest of life’s mysteries.

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The Discarded Image

Good
Reviewed by Mindy Rice Withrow on Jan 03 2011

We owe it to ourselves to resist the assumptions and the archetypes and set trajectories for the people we want to be, regardless of who we (and others) may think we are. This is a smart novel, cleverly conceptualized and beautifully translated.

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https://agoodstoppingpoint.wordpress.com

Below average
on Dec 02 2010

I don’t object to this rambling style in and of itself, but the content better be worth dragging the reader down into it. Unfortunately, I did not find the content to be all that illuminating or intriguing.

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https://rippleeffects.wordpress.com

Above average
Reviewed by Arti on Aug 26 2009

At times LOL funny, at times, absorbingly heart-breaking. This is one of the rare occasions where I had tears welled up in my eyes as I came to the end, an ending so powerful it propelled me to start from the beginning again.

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https://chasingbawa.com

Above average
on Jul 29 2010

Some may find this book pretentious, but I found it warm, kind and hysterically funny. It is, after all, a book about friendship.

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Fiona Jackson 12 Jul 2013

Rated the book as 5 out of 5

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