The Elegance of the Hedgehog

The Elegance of the Hedgehog

Book - 2008
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The lives of fifty-four-year-old concierge Rene Michel and extremely bright, suicidal twelve-year-old Paloma Josse are transformed by the arrival of a new tenant, Kakuro Ozu.
Publisher: New York, N.Y. : Europa Editions, 2008.
ISBN: 9781933372600
1933372605
Characteristics: 325 pages ;,21 cm
Additional Contributors: Anderson, Alison - Translator

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diesellibrarian Oct 16, 2017

I'm of two minds about this novel. On the one hand, it is well-constructed and features a set of quirky yet (mostly) likeable characters; however, the whole thing is overlaid with a heavy-handed philosophical discourse that appears to have no other purpose than to demonstrate the author's Wikiped... Read More »


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j
Joe_Z
Dec 05, 2017

Joy and sadness...glad I had a napkin handy to blot the tears. I suppose the sentimentality hit me harder than expected since I was listening to a mix of 80s music and reminiscing about my own life.

diesellibrarian Oct 16, 2017

I'm of two minds about this novel. On the one hand, it is well-constructed and features a set of quirky yet (mostly) likeable characters; however, the whole thing is overlaid with a heavy-handed philosophical discourse that appears to have no other purpose than to demonstrate the author's Wikipedia-level knowledge of 20th-Century Western thought. Strange digressions abound, in the form of the internal monologues of the protagonists, all of whom are outcasts of one type or another. Thus we learn that the solitary-yet-highly intelligent concierge favours Kant, and that Husserl and the phenomenologists are basically garbage. Such asides contribute nothing to the story. So why are they there? Presumably the intent is to prove that the author is as "intelligent" as the characters she is writing. This brings us to another problem with the book: the main characters bathe in the rarified air of high culture and literature, while the socially-powerful-yet-vapid people surrounding them serve are mere caricatures, consumed as they are with all of the lusts and chemical dependencies and empty consumerism of late capitalism. This false dichotomy rings hollow. Clearly the author intended the book as some kind of cultural critique; however, her unabashed adoration of the products of Western "high" art (not to mention a vaguely Orientalist idealization of Japanese culture) detracts from her ethos. This novel lacks the subtle social commentary of "Anna Karenina," which is clearly a favourite of the author's: allusions to it are peppered throughout the novel. Further, "Hedgehog" occasionally stretches the reader's ability to suspend disbelief (a 12-year-old blackmailing her family therapist while quoting Lacan? Suuuurrrrrre.). If this novel spent a year on the NYT Bestseller list, it's not because it's a smart novel, it's because it makes readers FEEL like they're smart for reading it. If you are looking for modern European philosophical fiction, keep moving. Many finer examples exist.

r
ricketur_0
Apr 04, 2017

Not for everyone, it moves slowly and not much action except the changes in the characters. Lots of digressions. It feels very French, hard for a North American to accept the class divisions that are an important part of the book. But I would gladly re-read it, with more patience.

c
coralsky
Nov 04, 2016

"Having a rich inner life" does not afford you the right to denigrate and look down your nose at others. One of the most pretentious and self indulgent novels I have read in some time. I am of the opinion that a novel reflects in many ways the beliefs and personality of the author. I would not walk across the street to meet this woman.

DCPL_Karen Nov 04, 2016

Sweet, simple, and surprisingly subtle.

j
jazpur
Sep 10, 2016

What a delight; beautifully written and translated. Such a sad and sensitive story about the real lives and thoughts of the people living in a Paris apartment building.

k
KatherineHere
Mar 23, 2016

Great book!

t
thinkson15
Nov 12, 2015

The story was very well-told. There was humor and I liked the change of voices between the characters.

s
som
Oct 07, 2015

This book would have been perfect if it hadn't turned a bit too sentimental towards the end. On balance, greatly enjoyed it.

g
gendeg
Jun 15, 2015

What a grating book...Characters that seem to whine and say: 'Look at me: I'm smart and self-aware and read Tolstoy, but I'm sensitive and marginalized so I have more soul, more depth than anyone else. I may be socially inferior but--meh--I can take smug comfort in my moral superiority, so take that, cruel world!' Gah.

It's the most irritating artifice in books to conflate the precocious with interesting and charming. Renee (a self-inflicted outcast) and Paloma (a self-inflicted angsty brat), you are smart but you are far from interesting or charming.

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m
mogie
Feb 07, 2013

"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."

l
lisahiggs
Jul 27, 2011

[C]athedrals have always aroused in me the sensation of extreme light-headedness one often feels in the presence of man-made tributes to the glory of something that does not exist … [and] tested to the extreme my ability to believe that so much intelligence could have gone to serve so futile an undertaking.

n
ndp21f
Nov 15, 2010

That's just great; something like this would happen right before I die. Twelve and a half years in a cultural desert and right when it's time to go and pack it in a Japanese gentleman arrives . . . it really is too unfair.

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