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Friday 22 June 2018



The Elegance of the Hedgehog (French: L'Élégance du hérisson) is a novel by the French novelist and philosophy teacher Muriel Barbery. 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.

Featuring a number of erudite characters, The Elegance of the Hedgehog is full of allusions to literary works, music, films, and paintings. It incorporates themes relating to philosophy, class consciousness, and personal conflict. The events and ideas of the novel are presented through the thoughts and reactions, interleaved throughout the novel, of two narrators, Renée and Paloma. The changes of narrator are marked by switches of typeface. In the case of Paloma, the narration takes the form of her written journal entries and other philosophical reflections; Renée's story is also told in the first person but more novelistically and in the present tense.

First released in August 2006 by Gallimard, the novel became a publishing success in France the following year, selling over two million copies. It has been translated into more than forty languages, and published in numerous countries outside France, including the United Kingdom (Gallic Books, London) and the United States (Europa Editions, New York), and has attracted critical praise.

The Elegance of the Hedgehog was well received by critics. In the earliest known review, for the Italian newspaper La Repubblica, Maurizio Bono writes that "[t]he formula that made more than half a million readers in France fall in love with [The Elegance of the Hedgehog] has, among other ingredients: intelligent humor, fine sentiments, an excellent literary and philosophical backdrop, taste that is sophisticated but substantial" French magazine Ellereviewer Natalie Aspesi pronounced it one of "the most exhilarating and extraordinary novels in recent years". Aspesi, however, tagged the novel's title as "most curious and least appealing". Praising the novel in his review for The Guardian, Ian Samson wrote that "The Elegance of the Hedgehog aspires to be great and pretends to philosophy: it is, at least, charming." In an earlier review in the same paper, Groskop opined that the novel is a "profound but accessible book ... which elegantly treads the line between literary and commercial fiction". She added that "clever, informative and moving, it is essentially a crash course in philosophy interwoven with a platonic love story". A review in The Telegraph conjectured that "[i]f [the novel were] a piece of furniture, it would be an IKEA bestseller: popular, but not likely to be passed down the generations". A review in The Times Literary Supplement went further, calling the book "pretentious and cynical, with barely any story. It reads more like a tract than a novel, but lacks even a tract's certainty of purpose. The characters are problematic: most are puppets, and those that aren’t are stereotypes".
Michael Dirda of The Washington Post complimented Barbery, saying, "Certainly, the intelligent Muriel Barbery has served readers well by giving us the gently satirical, exceptionally winning and inevitably bittersweet Elegance of the Hedgehog." Louise McCready of The New York Observer praised Anderson's translation of the novel as "smooth and accurate". Caryn James of The New York Times hailed the novel as "studied yet appealing commercial hit", adding that it "belongs to a distinct subgenre: the accessible book that flatters readers with its intellectual veneer".[7] Los Angeles Times' Susan Salter Reynolds wrote that "[The Elegance of the Hedgehog] is a high-wire performance; its characters teeter on the surreal edge of normalcy. Their efforts to conceal their true natures, the pressures of the solitary mind, make the book hum".

The novel was adapted into a film The Hedgehog (Le hérisson) released in France in July 2009, starring Josiane Balasko as Renée Michel, Garance Le Guillermic as Paloma Josse, and Togo Igawa as Kakuro Ozu, with a score by Gabriel Yared. The rights for the film were bought by NeoClassics Film and it was released by the company in America on 19 August. Its reception at festivals was positive and it won the Filmfest DC 2011, the Best of Fest Palm Springs 2011, the Seattle International Film Festival 2010, and the 2010 Col-Coa Film Festival. Moira Macdonald of The Seattle Times called it "Whimsical and touching... Mona Achache's adaptation is wistful perfection". Stephen Holden of The New York Times said it "suggests a sort of Gallic Harold and Maude".

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