Nina's Reading Blog

Comments on books I am reading/listening to

The Elegance of the Hedgehog

Posted by nliakos on September 24, 2011

by Muriel Barbery (Europa Editions, 2006)

This is a story about three people: a middle-aged concierge, a young girl, and a wealthy Japanese widower.  They all live in the same Paris apartment building and all are out of the ordinary: intelligent, thoughtful, and exceedingly private. The book describes how they come to recognize in each other kindred spirits.  The hedgehog of the title, the concierge Renee Michel, relaxes by reading philosophy and great literature while the television in her loge plays dumb shows all day long in order to fool the snobbish tenants of the building into thinking she is what she seems to be.  She has only one friend, a less educated but no less intelligent Portuguese cleaning woman who works in the building–until Kakuro Ozu, the extremely wealthy Japanese businessman, moves into the building.  He recognizes the uniqueness of both Madame Michel and of Paloma, the young girl, and befriends them both, at the same time awakening in each an interest in the other (without him, they would never have seen past each other’s exteriors).  Madame Michel tries to resist Ozu’s offer of friendship on the grounds that it is inappropriate, but he refuses to be put off.  Actual happiness just just within reach, when….

I cried on the bus as I read the ending to this beautiful novel.  Two days later, I went to see The Hedgehog, the movie based on the novel, and was impressed by the rendering of the novel onto the big screen.  I recommend both the book and the movie.

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