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The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery



Book Reviews (Adult)

The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery
London : Gallic, 2008

This is a remarkable work – a philosophy textbook in the form of a novel.

As a textbook, however, it starts out by debunking phenomenology. The rich lefties who dress down are spared no less than the bourgeois elite. It is an attack on the assumptions that a concierge may be uneducated or that a twelve year old may not be a genius.

The cultured Renee, the 12 year old Paloma, with intelligence greater than the other residents, along with Monsieur Ozu, made an engaging trio, culminating in the hilarious visit by Renee to Monsieur Ozu’s loo.

Quite apart from the author’s contempt for some of the tenets of philosophy… and my understanding is that she is a philosophy professor… she is scathing about psychology, remarking how 12 years of expensive treatment leave Madame Josse still no less addicted to watering plants as ever.

The short chapters made this an easy read, but I never thought that I might like a book that spent three pages discussing the insights gained from a misplaced comma in speech.

It is only natural to assume that this tale of an encounter between a cultured widow and a refined widower would lead to a predictable denouement. For that reason, the ending took me by surprise and I was really saddened by it, as I had taken a shine to the concept of the two of them as a couple. Paloma, however, was a character who radiated insight, but not warmth.

This was a book that I would read a second time. I understand that it was adapted to film, but most reviews of that have been negative.

Reviewed by a Kilrush Book Club Member.

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