Editor reviews

The Elegance of the Hedgehog tells the story of a life spent in hiding. Madame Michel is the concierge of a luxurious Parisian apartment building, tending to the plants, signing for packages, and polishing the brass, retreating when she can to her rooms on the first floor. She keeps a television blaring where the tenants can hear it; she zealously polices her speech and gestures to keep from giving herself away. What is the secret she hides? Madame Michel is an intellectual. She knows Kant, but she's separated by class from other people who do, so she discusses his work with herself while we listen in. Her musings are voiced by Barbara Rosenblat, who lends an air of theatrical irony — an auditory raised eyebrow — to her descriptions of class blind spots and philosophical rabbit holes.
The other pole of the story is Paloma Josse, a 12-year-old tenant in the building, voiced by Cassandra Morris with an appropriate measure of sarcasm and outrage. Paloma is a wildly precocious girl raised in privilege who has all the gifts of intellect and all the faults of a pre-adolescent. She's grandiose — she favors us with excerpts from a journal titled "Profound Thoughts". She's happy to throw stones at glass houses, and even plans to burn hers down, with the aim of teaching her family a pithy lesson about deprivation. She describes the currently deprived in terms that, while well-intentioned, condescend and distort. She is, in other words, a burgeoning intellect in serious need of the influence of an adult she can respect. An adult, perhaps, like the 54-year-old concierge on the first floor. But it takes more than a ride in an elevator to truly meet a woman who has spent her life in hiding. The novel takes two world views, both meticulously constructed from sound philosophical materials, and happily pulls them apart. —Rosalie Knecht
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Summary

An enchanting New York Times and international best seller and award-winner about life, art, literature, philosophy, culture, class, privilege, and power, seen through the eyes of a 54-year-old French concierge and a precocious but troubled 12-year-old girl. Renee Michel is the 54-year-old concierge of a luxury Paris apartment building. Her exterior (short, ugly,and plump) and demeanor (poor, discreet, and insignificant) belie her keen, questing mind and profound erudition. Paloma Josse is a 12-year-old genius who behaves as everyone expects her to behave: a mediocre pre-teen high on adolescent subculture, a good but not outstanding student, an obedient if obstinate daughter. She plans to kill herself on the 16th of June, her 13th birthday.
Both Renee and Paloma hide their true talents and finest qualities from the bourgeois families around them, until a wealthy Japanese gentleman named Ozu moves into building. Only he sees through them, perceiving the secret that haunts Renee, winning Paloma's trust, and helping the two discover their kindred souls. Moving, funny, tender, and triumphant, Barbery's novel exalts the quiet victories of the inconspicuous among us.
©2006 Editions Gallimard, Paris (P)2009 Highbridge Company
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Critic reviews

"Gently satirical, exceptionally winning and inevitably bittersweet." ( The Washington Post )
"An exquisite book in the form of a philosophical fable that has enchanted hundreds of thousands of readers." (Italian Elle)
"Kinetic minds and engaging voices." ( New York Times Book Review)
"By turns very funny and heartbreaking". ( Publishers Weekly)
"Life-affirming." ( Time)
“You might have guessed that Muriel Barbery is a philosophy lecturer turned novelist. Not much happens … Probing into the gloriously, infinitely complex human nature of human consciousness is what it’s really about. Done as wittily and elegantly as this (Barbara Rosenblat’s amused, self-deprecating portrayal of Renee is bliss), it’s no wonder it sold a million.” Sue Arnold, The Guardian
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful
1 out of 5 stars
By Kimberley Julius on 22-10-14

Awful narration

If this book wasn’t for you, who do you think might enjoy it more?

The book is fabulous - it was read abysmally

Who might you have cast as narrator instead of Barbara Rosenblat and Cassandra Morris ?

Someone who can do a French accent

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2 of 2 people found this review helpful

1 out of 5 stars
By Colin Murphy on 06-02-11

Elegance of the Hedgehog

Lovely book but it's set in Paris, so why not have French readers, instead we have the most awful screechy voiced American child that ruined the story - ugh.

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5 of 6 people found this review helpful

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful
4 out of 5 stars
By Pyles on 21-04-10

It surprised me

I would not have had the patience to read this book with my eyes. I used it as a companion for pulling weeds and I must report that the garden and I are both the better for it. It was a very good listen. I'll not forget these characters anytime soon.

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57 of 59 people found this review helpful

5 out of 5 stars
By Regan on 23-07-09

Fantastic!

This is an absolutely charming and wonderful book that I'll be recommending to lots of people. It is told in the first person by two narrators, both of whom are very intelligent intellectuals who are constantly evaluating the psychological and philosophical nuances of everything. While that sounds like it could be unbelievable dull, it isn't. I laughed so hard at one point, I had to stop the recording.

Cassandra Morris is very good, but Barbara Rosenblatt gives an award winning performance. It is one of the best narrations I have heard not just from Rosenblatt, but from anyone.

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46 of 49 people found this review helpful

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