Review: The Elegance of the Hedgehog

Title: The Elegance of the Hedgehog
Author: Muriel Barbery
Rating: 5
Date of Release: 9/2/2008
SynopsisWe are in the center of Paris, in an elegant apartment building inhabited by bourgeois families. Renée, the concierge, is witness to the lavish but vacuous lives of her numerous employers. Outwardly she conforms to every stereotype of the concierge: fat, cantankerous, addicted to television. Yet, unbeknownst to her employers, Renée is a cultured autodidact who adores art, philosophy, music, and Japanese culture. With humor and intelligence she scrutinizes the lives of the building's tenants, who for their part are barely aware of her existence.
Then there's Paloma, a twelve-year-old genius. She is the daughter of a tedious parliamentarian, a talented and startlingly lucid child who has decided to end her life on the sixteenth of June, her thirteenth birthday. Until then she will continue behaving as everyone expects her to behave: a mediocre pre-teen high on adolescent subculture, a good but not an outstanding student, an obedient if obstinate daughter.
Paloma and Renée hide both their true talents and their finest qualities from a world they suspect cannot or will not appreciate them. They discover their kindred souls when a wealthy Japanese man named Ozu arrives in the building. Only he is able to gain Paloma's trust and to see through Renée's timeworn disguise to the secret that haunts her. This is a moving, funny, triumphant novel that exalts the quiet victories of the inconspicuous among us.
Not so much.
Before I go on, let me say I really wanted to like this book. Translated from French, interesting premise, critically acclaimed. Full of philosophy and art and meticulously researched. And yet, for me, it fell short. I didn't want to read past chapter fourteen, so I didn't. Maybe it got a whole lot better and more interesting, but now I'll never know.
The novel is about Renee and Paloma, two people from very different lifestyles that share a building. Paloma, a genius 12-year-old, plans to kill herself. As horrible as this sounds, at about the third chapter I wanted her to just get on with it already. Each of her 'chapters' (a one to two page journal entry from her POV), was full of wandering thoughts and philosophy, and such a snide, full-of-herself voice that I wanted to smash my head against the wall. I get that she has some character development to do, but jeepers-creepers, I didn't like her one bit for the whole fourteen chapters I read. If I met her in real life, I'd punch her in the face. The author and writing didn't make me care for her at all.
Renee is a slightly different story. If this story was just about her, I -might- have read on. She has likeable and unlikeable qualities, which makes her believable character with an interesting personality. However, her chapters were too full of obscure artistic references and it seemed not much happened, which made me restless.
I'm sure some people love this story, with its large philosophical side and different base. I wish I liked it, then I could put on the airs some readers wear when they read all these thick, muddy, philosophical novels while poor un-enlightened I traipse through my YA novels ravenously. (joking, by the way, though I have met some people like that). But I didn't. And thus I stand. But, older audiences might enjoy this more then flighty hard-to-please moi. 
Final Rating: 5

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