Monday Night Book Club: The Elegance of the Hedgehog

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by Abigail Fisher

If I’m ever in a mood to cry and feel existential (it happens more often than one might think) I immediately turn to Muriel Barbery’s The Elegance of the Hedgehog. The story follows Renée Michel and Paloma Josse, two individuals seemingly divided by class, connected by their mutual concealment of their true selves. Renée is the 54-year-old concierge at the Paris apartment building where 12-year-old Paloma lives. Renée hides her intelligence and vast knowledge of art  and film from the world around her. Paloma belongs to a family that employs Renée, and although she is a genius, Paloma acts as though she is a perfectly average girl. The initial conflict of the novel emerges when we learn Paloma intends to kill herself on her thirteenth birthday. The savior of The Elegance of the Hedgehog is the new tenant Ozu who pulls both Renée and Paloma from their shells and allows them to seek friendship for the first time.

The Elegance of the Hedgehog made me consider what each of us may be hiding from one another. For better or worse, the person we present to the world may not represent who we actually are. The eloquence of Muriel Barbery’s writing was enough to initially interest me in The Elegance of the Hedgehog, but what made me devour the book insatiably was the profound, almost philosophical inner dialogues of Renée and Paloma. Their voices are beautiful and pure. I learned a lot from both of them about the importance of the everyday. Read The Elegance of the Hedgehog for an amazing catharsis: it will undoubtedly broaden your perception of life.

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