The Elegance of the Hedgehog – Muriel Barbery

Posted 12 January, 2012 by Trish in Reading Nook, Review / 25 Comments

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Title: The Elegance of the Hedgehog

Author: Muriel Barbery
Narrators: Barbara Rosenblat, Cassandra Morris
Published: 2006 Pages: 359
Audio Duration: 9 hrs, 34 mins
Genre: Literary Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5

Summary: A middle aged apartment concierge, Madame Renee Michel, who has hidden her cultural proclivities from those around her and a teenage girl, Paloma, who is searching for a reason to continue to live in this seemingly meaningless world, are brought together by a strange new tenant, Mr. Ozu.

Why I listened: JoAnn made me. Well, her review did anyway. I was in an audio-lull and had just received an audible credit; JoAnn’s description of this one being a “thought-provoking, cerebral novel” had me knowing that it was just what I needed.

Thoughts in General: The book is written from the alternating perspectives of Madame Michel and Paloma. JoAnn warns that there is a slow start to the book and she’s absolutely correct–but pick this one up when you’re in the mood for character and writing-driven novels rather than a plot-driven novel. It is an incredibly quiet book that takes place mostly in the heads of the two characters, but I was surprised at how I longed to hear more of each ones thoughts.

Bottom Line: I will certainly be listening to this book again and I will also be picking up a hard copy. It’s a book that needs to be enjoyed slowly and indulgently like a decadent and rich coffee. But don’t be discouraged by the slow start–instead savor it–get to know these wonderful characters. And if slow isn’t your style, skip this one!

A note on the audio: The narration of The Elegance of the Hedgehog was absolutely fantastic. Barbara Rosenblat as Madame Michel is by far one of the narrations I have listened to–Rosenblat absolutely transformed herself into the character and made her come to life. She was emphatic and dramatic in all of the right places. My only quibble is a personal one–I was trying to listen to the ending while doing some basic tasks at work when I realized that I only peripherally knew what was happening. I missed out on a key moment and certainly learned my lesson about trying to multitask!!

This one has received some really rave reviews but also some mild ones. Have you read it? What did you think?

Also, while looking up the page numbers for this post I realized that it was originally published in France and that there’s a French movie. Huh!

25 Responses to “The Elegance of the Hedgehog – Muriel Barbery”

  1. I read one of his other books which had the culinary expert in. Can’t for the life of me remember the title. I found it needed to be digested slowly as the descriptions were just so full of detail.

  2. So glad you ended up loving this, Trish! A few months have passed and I still find myself thinking about this book. That’s definitely a sign to reread. I’ll choose print next time, too.

  3. What I remember thinking about this book is that at the beginning, it all seems pointless and scattershot, but right about when that Japanese movie director character arrives (it’s been three years, can’t remember his name), it all comes together. I speculated in my review that that’s because the character’s lives started coming together then, and felt like they had meaning, and therefore the reader followed in that same transition from floating to directed. I liked that.

  4. A co-worker gave me this book; I was intrigued when she said it was odd. Thanks for the warning about it being slow. I’ll save it for when I’m in the mood for a quiet, thought-provoking book.

  5. I read this book a number of years ago and I really liked it.

    This is actually the authors second book, but first published in English. The second one is a very short tome called Gourmet Rhapsody and takes place during the events of Hedgehog (surrounding the ill food critic). I liked it a lot more and though it was one of the better books I’ve read in years!

    And, btw, despite what one commenter said, the author is a women, not a man.

    My review of her other novel can be found here.

  6. I’ve actually had this one on my to read list for quite some time…I’ve heard good things about it. Glad to get your perspective :)

  7. I was in the mild camp, for this one. But that’s mostly because I don’t like philosophy, so every time philosophy was mentioned I kind of tuned out.

  8. Amy

    I haven’t read this yet but I have a copy and am looking forward to sitting down with it and reading it!
    So glad you enjoyed it, Trish!

  9. *Vivienne – Gourmet Rhapsody? So gladanother commenter mentioned it–I haven’t heard of it before!

    *JoAnn – So glad you convinced me tofinally read this one! And yes, I would love to re-read this one again–andeven listen to it again one day. Think it’s one of those that can always havesomething new to offer with each visit.

    *Amanda – Yes, I think you make agreat point about the unconnectedness at the beginning of the novel beingrelated to the characters’ own disconnectedness and everything coming togetherwhen they also become more connected (you explain better than I do)–I felt thesame when reading.

    *Anna – Ha! I’m not sure if I wouldhave called it odd but I guess I can see where your coworker is coming from.Yes, definitely a quiet novel but I hope you enjoy it!

    *Rhapsody – A knockout ending that Iwas only halfway paying attention to. So bummed that I didn’t get the fullimpact! Oh well.

    *Wendy – Thanks for givingme the link to your old review. I remember seeing this one around a lot but notreally taking the time to see what it was really about. Such a beautiful little book!

    *Kailana – Definitely think this oneis one you need to be in the mood for. Hope you enjoy it when you get to it!

    *Tediousandbrief – Thanks for the noteon Groumet Rhapsody, Dave. I think I would really like that one! So the novelskind of cross-over, huh?

    *Darlene – It’s a great book for whenyou want to cozy up under a big blanket with a hot cup of tea. Hope you enjoy!

    *Irene – Have you read Elegance of theHedgehog?

    *Laura H – I found this one to workreally well on audio–hope it does for you, too!

    *Elise – I’d be really curious to hearwhat you think of it! But do be forewarned that it’s slow getting into…

    *Softdrink – The philosophy bits werekind of hard to digest on audio–hoping I have the patience for them when Imake it back to the hardcopy of the book!

    *Amy – I hope you really enjoy this one! It’s a great one to just get lost in. ;)

  10. This book has a rather special place in my heart. Not only does it take place in the country of my dreams – but it is the first book that I attempted to review on my blog!

    I am wanting to explore audiobooks more and I think this would be the perfect choice for me to try first. I already have a familiarity with the story (and being a visual learner, this is rather necessary for me in audiobook form) – and your review makes me believe that it actually enriches the overall story.

  11. I keep hearing that this one starts out slow. I’ve had this book for a while, but have to admit that I’m a little intimidated – I’m afraid I’m not smart enough for it.

  12. This is one that made me glad that I rarely ever give up on a book. I was half way through it before I finally started to fall in love with it.

  13. I’ve had this on my shelves forever (like so many other books) and continue to hear people rave about it. You’re just another one reminding me to read faster. lolz.

  14. *Molly – I think you’d really enjoy listening ot this book! Listening to audiobooks is hard because you do have to learn how to listen, but if you can it will open up so many more reading possibilities! I definitely recommend listening to books that you’ve already read! I’ve done that several times and will continue to do so.

    *Bermuda – Although this one is much more internal, I don’t think that it’s inaccessible. Definitely not a hard read, just a focused one.

    *Lisa – I was intrigued at the beginning to see where everything was going but so glad when the book started to pick up. ;)

    *Christina – hope you enjoy this one! It’s definitely great for a quiet rainy day.

  15. Les

    I listened to the audio (after trying to read the printed version) and LOVED it! I laughed and cried (Oh, yeah. I cried at work while I was listening. Thank goodness we weren’t yet open for business!). I loved both Barbara Rosenblat and Cassandra Morris. And, I can’t wait to see the film.

    You can find my review here.

  16. I loved the narrators for this audio. I liked the story and loved the ending. Totally knocked my socks off. Or would have if I’d been wearing any.

  17. *Jenny Girl – I hope you enjoy Elegance, Jenny. It’s a neat little book.

    *Les – I didn’t even realize there was a film until I popped onto Wikipedia to see when it was originally published. Have you tried going back to the print version again? I’m glad I listened to this one!

    *Stacy – I can’t wait to experience it again as I was working (shame on me) when “it” happened and it kind of lost the “knock-your-socks-off” feeling. So bummed!

  18. Les

    I doubt I’ll go back and read the print version for at least a few years. And when I do, I’m pretty sure I’ll skim the philosophy sections. ;)