Very few books have laid me bare like The Elegance of the Hedgehog. I absolutely loved it, though it was not my normal fare. In point of fact this was the book I chose for my reading challenge: read a book that intimidates you. I have no college education- I doubt completing one English class and a creative writing class count toward much. In high school I wasn’t the best student… and so many of the classics remain on my TBR list because I fear they will be over my head. In a family of great minds, and married to a brilliant man, I have always found myself to be lacking intellectually. And so I chose fun and exciting quick reads. Things to make me think, but never make me feel foolish. It’s odd, you know, I was the kid in fourth grade with Romeo and Juliet in one hand and a dictionary in the other. There was no fear of looking foolish then… what happened?
But I digress… I first learned of this book while I was reading The Little Paris Bookshop. I don’t know why, but the idea of this book stuck with me. I borrowed the eBook from my library and braced myself. Yes, I needed my built in dictionary but it was more than worth it. Perhaps I will be braver from now on, though I still love my quick, fun reads.
Renée is a concierge. It is her lot in life and her role in the hierarchy of society. This is the face she shows the world, vacant eyes and extreme curtesy. In the safety of her own home, she is an intellectual-mostly self-taught as she was not blessed with much of an education. Coming from a very poor family, and having seen what happens to one that tries to rise above their station, she has spent her life devouring books and pretending to know nothing. It is a dangerous line and one that, at 54, she is having trouble treading. More than anything, she overthinks every step she takes.
Paloma is twelve and a half years old and far too smart for her own good. For all her book learning though, she is depressed. She envisions herself setting fire to her apartment and committing suicide on her thirteenth birthday. Why? She doesn’t want to be where she sees her life going. Everyone joins what she calls the fish bowl (commonly referred to as the rat race). To ready herself, she decides to create two journals. One, for profound thoughts written is the form of Haiku. The second will be to write down the movement of the world. This includes people and objects. She wants to spend her remaining time doing something substantial. But just celebrating the mind seems too little. Thus, the masterpieces of matter.
Kakuro Ozu is a new tenant. A Japanese gentleman of great learning and kind disposition, he takes a shine to Renée and Paloma. Through his friendship the two blossom and find one another, helping each other evolve. Kakuro is perhaps my favorite character because he takes all that is great in humanity and envelopes it. He is easy and simple and comforting whereas the other two are a bit prickly and damaged.
When Renée passes, it leaves the two reeling. Paloma has to rethink everything for one of the two truly good people she has ever met has passed. But in her time with Renée and Kakuro she finds her voice and her strength. You leave knowing our Paloma will be alright. This book is filled with philosophy and deep thoughts to make you pause. I adored that about it. While I cry for Renée I want to grow to be a better person like Paloma. For that alone, I give this book five stars.
“Madam Michel (Renée) has the elegance of the hedgehog: on the inside she has the same simple refinement as the hedgehog: a deceptively indolent little creature, fiercely solitary-and terribly elegant.” –Paloma
This book is out now- go get it!
On the adult content scale I give it a two- light swearing, but really nothing of note.
Link to book: