The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Bradbury
Europa Editions, 2008
336 pgs, 3.5 stars
SUMMARY: Oscillating between the POV of an aging concierge, Renee, and a 12-year-old girl living in the same building, Paloma, The Elegance of the Hedgehog reminds us that no one is just what they seem.
Renee is philosophical and intelligent, but she strives to hide this from the tenants in her building. Her private life is rich with thought but devoid of emotional connection, except the friendship she’s developed with a maid in the building. Oh, and her cat. She loves that guy.
Paloma’s part is told in the form of journal entries; she is convinced she should kill herself because it’s just too awful to be so smart amidst a family and world of imbeciles and phonies (to use Holden’s words). When Paloma and Renee meet and discover an unexpected friendship it will change their lives for the better. And Renee might fall in love with a famous film maker.
This book was fantastically written! Once you get past the first 20 pages or so, it is a delight to read, but once again with the white girl angst and overly philosophical narration. I’ve read this story so many times: smart character looking down on everyone else for looking down on her, even though she keeps herself in a perpetual state of being looked down upon probably due to deeply buried insecurities related to class or attractiveness Except this time it’s FRENCH, very French. However, it did have a pretty great plot line, so I put up with the philosophical “is life meaningless” question. I mean, the ending really threw me for a loop. I found myself teary-eyed.
FASHION: You are elegant as a hedgehog: prickly on the outside but calm and thoughtful on the inside. Oh, and French through and through, as the monsieur-ironic-mustache sweatshirt proclaims, and if, God forbid, you have to take it off, then you have a Paris tank to make sure everyone knows you’re still as French as can be.
Your high-waisted flowered skirt is très chic, yet still modest enough for a school girl. Your yellow heels represent your burgeoning (sexual?) friendship with the famous Mr. Ozu.* But their yellow color represents your lack of courage when it comes to “sealing the deal” as they say (for the record, I never say that in reallife).
Your large glasses hide supremely intelligent eyes and most of your face. Your backpack is probably carrying a Tolstoy novel—I mean, you named your cat after him, so you’re kind of obsessed—along with some philosophy (maybe Kant? I don’t know, one of those guys who likes to hear his own voice). That huge blue pack has a perfect little pocket for your pink LANDCOME lip gloss. Hello. It is le French.
*Clearly, I’m mixing the two protagonists in this fashionable quip—there is no pervy relationship between Ozu and Paloma. Renee and Ozu is another story, obv.