The Elegance of the Hedgehog (Paperback)

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By Muriel Barbery, Alison Anderson (Translator)
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Staff Reviews

"What matters is what you are doing when you die," at least according to twelve-year-old Paloma, who is contemplating suicide because she's abandoned all faith in her superficial, bourgeoisie family. Across the hall from this introspective prodigy lives the widowed concierge of the Parisian hotel, Renée Michel, whose acquiescent exterior hides a vigilant, creative soul. Together, these unlikely heroines provide an amusing and thought-provoking storyline in Muriel Barbery's innovative novel, The Elegance of the Hedgehog. In succinct chapters that alternate between the characters' sardonic perspectives, Barbery's graceful sentences allow us to inhabit the minds of two "renegade and remarkable" intellectuals struggling to pass as ordinary citizens in a soulless society. Drawing inspiration from Dire Straits and Mozart, Japanese manga and Tolstoy, synchronized divers on TV and films like Blade Runner and The Hunt for Red October, these inherently likeable characters go searching for the meaning of art (and life) and the pleasure of human interaction and, as the title suggests, they continue to find beauty in the most unexpected places. -- Steffi Drewes

— From August 2009


The international bestseller that has sold over 10 million copies worldwide. The Elegance of the Hedgehog is a moving, funny, atmospheric novel that exalts the quiet victories of the inconspicuous among us.

We are in an elegant h tel particulier in the center of Paris. Ren e, the building's concierge, is short, ugly, and plump. She has bunions on her feet. She is cantankerous and addicted to television soaps. Her only genuine attachment is to her cat, Leo. In short, she is everything society expects from a concierge at a bourgeois building in a posh Parisian neighborhood. But Ren e has a secret: she is a ferocious autodidact who furtively devours art, philosophy, music, and Japanese culture. With biting humor she scrutinizes the lives of the building's tenants--her inferiors in every way except that of material wealth.

Then there's Paloma, a super-smart twelve-year-old and the youngest daughter of the Josses, who live on the fifth floor. Talented, precocious, and startingly lucid, she has come to terms with life's seeming futility and has decided to end her own on the day of her thirteenth birthday. Until then she will continue hiding her extraordinary intelligence behind a mask of mediocrity, acting the part of an average pre-teen high on pop subculture, a good but not an outstanding student, an obedient if obstinate daughter.

Paloma and Ren e hide both their true talents and their finest qualities from a world they suspect cannot or will not appreciate them. They discover their kindred souls when a wealthy Japanese man named Ozu arrives in the building. Only he is able to gain Paloma's trust and to see through Ren e's timeworn disguise to the secret that haunts her.

About the Author

Muriel Barbery is the author of the New York Times bestseller, The Elegance of the Hedgehog (Europa, 2008), and Gourmet Rhapsody (Europa, 2009). She has lived in Kyoto, Amsterdam and now lives in the French countryside. Alison Anderson's translations for Europa Editions include novels by S'lim Nassib, Am'lie Nothomb, and Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt. She is the translator of The Elegance of the Hedgehog (Europa, 2008) and The Life of the Elves (Europa, 2016) by Muriel Barbery.
Product Details
ISBN: 9781933372600
ISBN-10: 1933372605
Publisher: Europa Editions
Publication Date: September 1st, 2008
Pages: 325
Language: English