The Elegance of the Hedgehog

The Elegance of the Hedgehog - Muriel Barbery

This was a very unsettling reading experience. The story deals with two female protagonists, one the 54-year-old concierge of a Paris apartment house, the other a 12-year-old school girl who lives in one of these apartments with her family. Both women are granted enormous intelligence beyond their stations, and the majority of the book simply involves their whimsical musings. The author attempts something profound and meaningful through her character's observations, but because I disliked both women, I felt like the polite listener at a boozy meeting of a campus philosophy club. Throughout the story, the child contemplates suicide and burning down her apartment as a way to culminate the lack of meaning in her life. And this kid is supposed to be smart? She mocks her French teacher's weight and tosses around the word "retard," while chastising others for their lack of precise language. Anyway, yes, there was something ugly and offensive about this book, and I can't help feel that it reflects on the author's world view. I got the sense that the author may not really love people or feel empathy in a way that allows that bridge into her written world. And because of this, unfortunately, the reader feels nothing, even at the story's supposed dramatic conclusion. I looked up Ms. Barbery's picture, just to see who this person is. On a psychological level, her writing demonstrates an anxious desire for order and control. Why was this book so popular in France?