Wednesday, June 7, 2017

The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery- Book Review

To begin the review, I have to paint a small picture. On Friday, my dad and I went to the bookstore. Often times, I will pull books that I think he will like, but every so often he recommends one for me. Please note he is an college English professor, so when it comes to books, he is the expert although I tend to read more within the year, so it is a good balance.

We happened to be standing in the aisle when my dad looks at the shelf and asks if I have read this one- The Elegance of the Hedgehog? We often hear the phrase, "you shouldn't judge a book by its cover," but I was completely judging a book by its cover. It looks like a kids book along the lines of Harriet the Spy or a similar title. I looked at my dad perplexed because I know he really dislikes movies and books where children are the center, so you can imagine my confusion. I picked it up anyway and said I would read it over the weekend. I didn't start it until Sunday night and proceeded to tear through the book because I simply loved it!

This is not a kids book, nor is a child the center of the book, but a girl does narrate interludes within the main story. The main story though is about Renee, who is a 50+ year old widow who works as a concierge at a swanky French hotel. She has a secret though. She is an autodidactic genius. She has a profound love of books, art, and music and really knows about them, but to the larger world she is just a concierge and she likes it that way.

She is quite content living this way until a Japanese man moves into her building. He happens to have the same last name as her favorite director and has two cats named for characters in her favorite book. He also happens to see through her false image to the world and sees Renee's true self. Thus starts their relationship.

Within the book Palmona, a 12 year old who is also incredibly intelligent, narrates her observations about the world and about the relationship with Renee. She is almost a Greek chorus of sorts.

There are two things you should know about this book before starting it- 1. You may need a dictionary while reading it. It does not cut corners with words and the main character is a genius, so be prepared. 2. Once you get over the language, you will be presented with some sentences and insights that will blow your socks off! I think some of my Facebook friends may have turned off my updates because as I was reading the book, I kept uploading pictures of whole paragraphs or sentence quotes. This book is beautifully written with a difficult vocabulary curve.

I should add one more item to my two item list making it a three item list, it is very French. My dad warned me before reading this and I said a joke to him that turned out not only to be true, but was pretty typical within French lit. I won't repeat the joke because it is a major spoiler, but beware. That is not a slam against French lit, but it does follow a certain pattern that drives me crazy every now and again.

I cannot write how much I loved this book, but I also realize this book is for a certain audience. Not everyone will love this as it does get a little snooty at times. There are certain judgments stated and Renee has a certain standard for people she will let into her life. She can be an off putting and sometimes unlikable character to some. I can understand why certain individuals may not get this book. As stated, I was raised with an college English professor, so Renee would fit into my family's world.

I gave this one 5 stars. I simply loved it.

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