Sunday, June 6, 2010

Book: The Elegance of the Hedgehog

By Muriel Barbery

A 300+ pages of witty and thoughtful observations about life. Two protagonists, Renee the building concierge and Paloma a 12 year old tenant of one of the wealthy families give their thoughts on life, death, the meaning of both, and a record of their unlikely interconnected lives. I tend to base a lot of my preference for books based on the ending, and I enjoyed (in a literary way) the ending here so for that I am grateful.

Many of the refined thoughts revolve around intelligence and what it means.

"And on the way home I thought: pity the poor in spirit who know neither the enchantment nor the beauty of language." - 160

I tend to want to use quotes to explain why I like or dislike something so I tried to mark pages with something interesting that I might want to be able to refer back to.

" I've had my own suspicious on the matter for a while now too. From a distance, she's a real concierge. Close up...well, close up...there's something weird going on. [ ...] As for Madame can we tell? She radiates intelligence. And yet she really makes an effort, like, you can tell she is doing everything she possibly can to act like a concierge and come across as stupid. [...] Madame Michel has the elegance of the hedgehog: on the outside, she's covered in quills, a real fortress, but my gut feeling is that on the inside, she has the same simple refinement as the hedgehog: a deceptively indolent little creature, fiercely solitary, and terribly elegant." -143

Another tenant, Kakuro, takes an interest in Renee because of their uncanny similar interests. In one scene that is just begging to be in a movie, Renee has dressed up for the first time in her life for dinner and encounters other tenants of the building.

"They didn't recognize me," I say.
I come to a halt in the middle of the sidewalk, completely flabbergasted.
"They didn't recognize me," I repeat.
He stops in turn, my hand still on his arm.
"It is because they have never seen you," he says. " I would recognize you anywhere." - 303

Wouldn't we all love to be known in such a way by one person in life!

And those true friendships are what have the most meaning.

"All those hours drinking tea in the refined company of a great lady who has neither wealth nor palaces, only the bare skin in which she was born, - without those hours I would have remained a mere concierge, but instead it was contagious, because the aristocracy of the heart is a contagious emotion, so you made me a woman who could be a friend." - 319