Thursday, July 6, 2017

The Elegance of the Hedgehog (Muriel Barbery)

My goodness. I started this book in April and it took me until July to finish it. I had a hard time getting into it. One of the problems was the words. oh the words in this book!! There were so many words I'm just unfamiliar with. Is all the wordiness really necessary??

page 1 There he stood, the most recent eructation of the ruling corporate elite-a class that reproduces itself solely by means of virtuous and proper hiccups....
eruct (verb) to belch forth, as gas from a stomach or to emit or issue violently, as matter from a volcano
"You ought to read The German Ideology," I told him. Little cretin in his confer green duffle coat.
cretin (noun) a stupid, obtuse or mentally defective person

Then there was the rambling. It rambles on and on and seems to not be about anything. One of the great readers I admire and follow in Goodreads is Donalyn Miller. She abandoned the book and said:

Abandoned on page 145. I could not connect to the characters at all and did not care what happened to them. Perhaps, I would have liked it better if I was French-- the book was originally published in France.

However, this is one of those books that makes me glad I"m in a book club. I did finally finish it. I had to re-start it a number of times and it took a deadline to get me to finish it. And in the end, I'm glad I did.

The story is set in France and I have a great love affair with everything French. Despite their social awkwardness and preference to be invisible, I really did enjoy getting to know Renee ( "a widow, short, ugly, chubby", with "bunions on my feet and, on certain difficult mornings, it seems, the breath of a mammoth") and Paloma. There's something about those two that we all live.

You have to be really smart to read this book, I think. I'm glad I have my book club to help me get more out of it than I could ever get on my own.

Goodreads says:

We 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.

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