Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery

The smartest fiction I have read in some time with excellent character development and the incorporation of interesting ideas into a smooth flowing narrative. I enjoyed this work because it examined ideas in philosophy, literature, art and class consciousness, all the while being entertaining and witty (and not having the density of Sophie’s World nor Zen and Motorcycle). Though not flawless, it is definitely worth reading.
If you are seeking a plot outline: (From Wikipedia) “The book follows events in the life of a concierge, Renée Michel, whose deliberately concealed intelligence is uncovered by an unstable but intellectually precocious girl named Paloma Josse. Paloma is the daughter of an upper-class family living in the upscale Parisian apartment building where Renée works.”

I enjoyed going on Renée's journey and especially her relationship with Ozu, but I really disliked that she died. I'm sure Barbery knows her Wilde ("The good ended happily, and the bad unhappily. That is what Fiction means.") but I don't think it was a necessary move. I believe the author did this to more directly communicate how precious life is and how much "nothing" nothing is (i.e., someone truly being gone forever). More troubling would be the argument that Renée had to die because she was trying to transcend class lines. The character goes through an emotional breakdown revealing that class consciousness has restrained her throughout her life, seemingly overcoming this psychological limitation, and being reassured by the kind and wise character that things will be fine... and then she dies. No likely.


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