Ever read a book that takes your breath away? Many, I know. But if you wanted to add another one to your list of favourites, please please let The elegance of the hedgehog, by French author Muriel Burbery.
The plot is truly original and captivating. The main characters are Renée Michel and Paloma Josse, who live in an apartment building in Paris, in one of the most exclusive arrondissements of the city.
Renée is a concierge, who conceals her intellectual thirst for literature and philosophy in the belief that “[t]o be poor, ugly and, moreover, intelligent condemns one, in our society, to a dark and disillusioned life, a condition one ought to accept at an early age.” She affects fake liking for junk food and commercial music and television, whilst indulging in fine cuisine, opera and intellectual reads in the privacy of her own home, revealing her true nature only to her one and only friend Manuela, a Portuguese cleaner.
Eleven-year-old Paloma lives on the fifth floor with her parents and sister whom she considers snobs. A precocious girl, she hides her intelligence to avoid exclusion at school. Dismayed by the privileged people around her, she decides that life is meaningless, and that unless she can find something worth living for, she will commit suicide on the 16th of June (quoted from WiKi) – you will have to read the book to discover more.
Paloma is the only resident who discovers Renée’s true nature, and her interest for the concierge is shared by a new tenant, Japanese businessman named Kakuro Ozu. Kakuro is able to befriend Renée and bring her out of her shell and solitary existence.
The relevant WiKi page is grand for more information on the book’s characters and reviews – no point in duplicating it in ofglassandbooks.
So what’s the point of this post? Bear with me – ROLL OF DRUMS – I intend to find just a tiny fault with the book. Why? Well, all good books have tiny faults, and this is what makes us budding writers feel so much better about our imperfect work.
Here it goes. The moment of truth for Kakuro is when Renée reveals to him that her cat is called Leni, generating an immediate resonance with the Japanese businessman: ha, busted! The lady is a Tolstoy afecionada!
And this is where I squirm. Would you have made the same connection? Isn’t Leni a rather common female name in central and Eastern Europe? And if an intellectual leap of the imagination was necessary, at a push the name would have reminded me of Heinrich Bӧll’s heroin of Group portrait with lady. So strong was my liking for Bӧll’s Leni, that I briefly toyed with naming one of my children after her, but our family’s national backgrounds called for names belonging to heritages closer to home, and Leni was ditched as a credible choice.
I will not let this tiny detail spoil my ever enduring passion for the book. Just to couterbalance my overindulgent critial eye, let me overindulge in the following gem: the description of Renée and Manuela brewing coffee for its scent, whilst drinking tea for taste. Don’t you just hate being drawn into a café by the irresistible smell of ground coffee, only to be disappointed by the taste of your latte? I do, ever since reading The elegance of the hedgehog!
Any overcritical readers out there who want to recommend wonderful reads, with a caveat: shame about this tiny detail…?
Follow these interesting links for more related articles
- The Elegance of the Hedgehog (bhplnjbookgroup.blogspot.com)
- Book #10 (January) – The Elegance of the Hedgehog (thelemonzestblog.com)