Book Review: The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery

The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery

Genre: contemporary fiction
First Published: 2007
I read this in: Dutch, the original language is French (L’élégance du hérisson)
Number of pages: 320
Rating: 3.5/5


The Elegance of the Hedgehog: What it is About

Renée is a widow and janitor of an apartment complex for rich people. She is interested in topics such as philosophy, classic books, classical music, but she thinks it doesn’t look good for a janitor to be associated with things like that so she pretends to be a simple woman with the interests of her own class.

Paloma is the 12-year old daughter of a rich family who live in the apartment building and she is very intelligent. She strikes up a friendship with Renée, as does a new (and rich) apartment owner. Slowly but surely Renée drops her working class behaviour and shows her real self.

The Elegance of the Hedgehog: What I thought

3.5 stars (out of 5). I enjoyed the story of Renée and the man who recently moved into the apartment building. He is an outsider, too. While he is popular with the rich ladies in his building, he is more interested in Renée, who is not rich but is more of a soulmate to him than his shallow rich neighbours.

But there was way too much philosophy in the book. Both Paloma and Renée think deeply about the world around them and philosophise a lot. The book is told by them and there are large portions of philosophical considerations, which were sometimes quite clever, but often I was not interested.

I really enjoyed the interactions between the different characters in the book, though. The first part of the book was heavy on philosophy and had it not been for a challenge/competition on Shelfari, I would not have finished the book. Luckily, the second half was much better.

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24 Responses to Book Review: The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery

  1. Good to know about it getting better in the second half – I just bought this book and will probably be reading it soon!

  2. Ally says:

    It’s one of my favorite books, I loved the philosophical bits; I don’t really read philosophical books, so from time to time it is great to find some lines that turn to be true no matter what 🙂

  3. I wish I hadn’t bothered to read to the end of this one. I’m afraid I found the second half just as irritating as the first!

    • Leeswammes says:

      Did you, Jackie? At least we share an opinion on the first half. 🙂 I liked the Japanese apartment owner and his growing relationship with the janitor. Most of that happened in the second part.

  4. Suzanne says:

    I think it’s one of those books you have to be in the “right” mood for. I loved it, but I can certainly see why some people may not (many in my book group hated it when we discussed it).

    I read Barbery’s Gourmet Rhapsody after reading Elegance of the Hedgehog, and I think that was a much easier read and helps explain what goes on in Elegance (Gourmet Rhapsody was originally released first)

    • Leeswammes says:

      I haven’t read that one, Suzanne – interesting that there is a relation between the books, because it’s not a series, is it?

      You definitely have to be in the right mood – I was ready for an interesting story, not necessarily a fast read, but the philosophy bits didn’t fit in too well, for me. I guess, as you say, reading the other book first might help.

  5. parrish says:

    I’ve seen this & kind of decided it wasn’t for me, but think I’ll give it another look ,as the philosophy parts appeal. thanks for the info

    • Leeswammes says:

      Funny, Gary! But that’s so interesting about reviews: what appeals to some doesn’t appeal to others and vice versa. So I might not like a book all that much, if I give arguments why not, someone else may be really interested in it. Great!

  6. I really liked this book a lot — had the print and the audio. Sorry it wasn’t as big a hit with you.

  7. mel u says:

    I liked Hedgehog a lot-how can one not love the title I loved how the lead character hid her reading and her intelligence-I was not happy with the ending personally or as a literary matter

  8. Shelley says:

    I felt very much the same as you, and I like philosophical stuff. Sometimes it was just overkill. I think also my expectations were too high, which often dooms a book.

  9. Aths says:

    Philosophy annoys me too. I have this book on my shelf, but for whatever reason, I have been very hesitant to read it. Looks like the trend will continue.

  10. Alex says:

    What did you think of the ending? I felt a bit cheated by it, although I really enjoyed the rest of the book (philosophical parts included).

  11. Nish says:

    I’ve heard similar reviews from others on this book and makes me somewhat disinterested. Two people chatting about philosophy sounds a little bit boring…

  12. RFW says:

    I started this book twice and could not get into it. Glad to hear I was not alone.

  13. Pingback: The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery | Iris on Books

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