Book review: The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery

This philosophical novel explores life through the eyes of the concierge of an apartment building in Paris, interweaved with the journal extracts of one of the inhabitants, a 12 year old girl who has resolved to commit suicide on her next birthday.  It explores and challenges the stereotypes of a class hierarchy, questioning how culpable we are in perpetuating our perceived position in society by conforming to what we believe is expected of us and concealing the parts of our character that don’t appear to fit in with this view.  It leads us to question what aspects of ourselves we keep from others, and what others might be hiding from us. 

Reading through other reviews, I discovered that many people don’t enjoy this novel, finding it pretentious and giving up after only a few pages.  Whilst understanding how the beginning could be off-putting, this is a novel that improves as it progresses and, for this reason, it is worthwhile persevering.  The main characters are sympathetically portrayed and, by being allowed access to their thoughts, it is possible to understand the motivations behind their actions.  As in life, there are moments of both humour and sadness.  The ending is unexpected and moving, challenging the reader to search for ‘those moments of always within never’.

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