Renée is a 54-year-old concierge in an expensive apartment
building in Paris and the hedgehog of the title: she has “the same
simple refinement as the hedgehog: a deceptively indolent little
creature, fiercely solitary — and terribly elegant.” Except for a
12-year-old resident and a new tenant, a cultured Japanese man, her
snooty neighbors don’t know or care that she loves the arts and
literature (and Renee wants to keep them ignorant).
Paloma, the 12-year-old, is brilliant and disillusioned with the “vacuousness of bourgeois existence.” She plans to commit suicide on her 13th birthday unless she can find something worth living for.
Kakuro, the resident who arrives partway through the story, befriends both Paloma and Renée, setting in motion a more hopeful future for all of them, although a late event forecloses a happily-ever-after ending.
Written by a one-time philosophy professor and narrated in the first person by Renée and Paloma, The Elegance of the Hedgehog is brimming with philosophical thoughts that may not appeal to readers who prefer plot and action.
Although the novel denounces French hypocrisy, the French don’t seem to mind: The Elegance of the Hedgehog was a bestseller there as well as internationally.
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