Nobody ever imagined that this tender, funny book with a philosophical vein would have enjoyed such incredible success. For some, it is part Sophie's World by Jostein Gaarder, part Monsieur Malaussene by Daniel Pennac. While for others it resembles a written version of the film Amelie. Either way, readers are responding in vast numbers.
Enthusiastically recommended for anyone who loves books that grow quietly and then blossom suddenly.
Marie Clair (France)
An exquisite book in the form of a philosophical fable that has enchanted hundreds of thousands of readers.
The Elegance of the Hedgehog, a best seller in France and several other countries, belongs to a distinct subgenre: the accessible book that flatters readers with its intellectual veneer…Renee's story is addressed to no one (that is, to us), while Paloma's takes the form of a notebook crammed with what she labels "profound thoughts." Both create eloquent little essays on time, beauty and the meaning of life…Even when the novel is most essayistic, the narrators' kinetic minds and engaging voices (in Alison Anderson's fluent translation) propel us ahead.
Caryn James - New York Times
Renee Michel and Paloma Josse provide the double narrative of The Elegance of the Hedgehog, and you will—this is going to sound corny—fall in love with both. In Europe, where Muriel Barbery's book became a huge bestseller in 2007, it has inspired the kind of affection and enthusiasm American readers bestow on the works of Alexander McCall Smith. Still, this is a very French novel: tender and satirical in its overall tone, yet most absorbing because of its reflections on the nature of beauty and art, the meaning of life and death. Out of context, Madame Michel's pensees may occasionally sound pretentious, just as Paloma might sometimes pass for a Gallic (and female) version of Holden Caulfield. But, for the most part, Barbery makes us believe in these two unbelievable characters.
Michael Dirda - Washington Post
This story, like all great tales, will break your heart, but it will also make you realize—or remember—that sometimes the pain is worth it."
A beautiful story with a large cast of fascinating, complicated characters whose behavior is delightfully unpredictable.
Wall Street Journal
This dark but redemptive novel, an international bestseller, marks the debut in English of Normandy philosophy professor Barbery. Renée Michel, 54 and widowed, is the stolid concierge in an elegant Paris hôtel particulier. Though "short, ugly, and plump," Renée has, as she says, "always been poor," but she has a secret: she's a ferocious autodidact who's better versed in literature and the arts than any of the building's snobby residents. Meanwhile, "supersmart" 12-year-old Paloma Josse, who switches off narration with Renée, lives in the building with her wealthy, liberal family. Having grasped life's futility early on, Paloma plans to commit suicide on her 13th birthday. The arrival of a new tenant, Kakuro Ozu, who befriends both the young pessimist and the concierge alike, sets up their possible transformations. By turns very funny (particularly in Paloma's sections) and heartbreaking, Barbery never allows either of her dour narrators to get too cerebral or too sentimental. Her simple plot and sudden denouement add up to a great deal more than the sum of their parts.
Published in France in 2006, this work quickly captured the European imagination, and the advance praise is sufficiently glowing to guarantee attention in the English-speaking world. The novel itself is more problematic. Philosophy professor Barbery—the author of one previous novel, Une gourmandise-has fashioned a slow and sentimental fable out of her own personal interests—art, philosophy, and Japanese culture-about a widow who serves as caretaker of a Parisian apartment building and a troubled girl living in the building. Barbery attempts to make the story appear more cutting-edge by introducing dizzying changes in typography, but the effect seems precious from the outset and quickly grow tiresome. Recommended for public libraries where literature in translation is in demand and for academic libraries to complement their French collections
Sam Popowich - Library Journal
The second novel (but first to be published in the United States) from France-based author Barbery teaches philosophical lessons by shrewdly exposing rich secret lives hidden beneath conventional exteriors. Renee Michel has been the concierge at an apartment building in Paris for 27 years. Uneducated, widowed, ugly, short and plump, she looks like any other French apartment-house janitor, but Mme Michel is by no means what she seems. A "proletarian autodidact," she has broad cultural appetites-for the writings of Marx and Kant, the novels of Tolstoy, the films of Ozu and Wenders. She ponders philosophical questions and holds scathing opinions about some of the wealthy tenants of the apartments she maintains, but she is careful to keep her intelligence concealed, having learned from her sister's experience the dangers of using her mind in defiance of her class. Similarly, 12-year-old Paloma Josse, daughter of one of the well-connected tenant families, shields her erudition, philosophical inclinations, criticism-and also her dreams of suicide. But when a new Japanese tenant, Kakuro Ozu, moves in, everything changes for both females. He detects their intelligence and invites them into his cultured life. Curious and deeply fulfilling friendships blossom among the three, offering Paloma and Renee freedom from the mental prisons confining them. With its refined taste and political perspective, this is an elegant, light-spirited and very European adult fable.
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