Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Review of The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery

This book review was written by Eugene Kernes

Book can be found in: 
Genre = Novel
Book Club Event = Book List (05/14/2023)

Watch Short Review


“I have read so many books… And yet, like most autodidacts, I am never quite sure what I have gained from them.  There are days when I feel I have been able to grasp all there is to know in one single gaze, as if invisible branches suddenly spring out of nowhere, weaving together all the disparate strands of my reading – and then suddenly the meaning escapes, the essence evaporates, and no matter how often I reread the same lines, they seem to flee ever further with each subsequent reading, and I see myself as some mad old fool who thinks her stomach is full because she’s been attentively reading the menu.” – Muriel Barbery, Chapter 4: Refusing the Fight, Page 43

“Antoine Pallières looked at me with the expression of someone who wonders if he has really seen what he thinks he has seen.  But as he has been conditioned to imagine that only what must happen does happen, in the way that rich people convince themselves that their lives run along a heavenly track that the power of money has quite naturally laid for them, Antoine decided to believe me.  I find this a fascinating phenomenon: the ability we have to manipulate ourselves so that the foundation of our beliefs is never shaken.” – Muriel Barbery, Chapter 15: The Rich Man’s Burden, Page 99

“Yes, our eyes may perceive, yet they do not observe; they may believe, yet they do not question; they may receive yet they do not search: they are emptied of desire, with neither hunger not passion.” – Muriel Barbery, Chapter 18: Flowing Water, Page 293



Renée is a concierge at the rue de Grenelle.  A building for the affluent.  Paloma is an occupant.  They are from different generations, and different ways of seeing the world.  Both see a path for their life, and death.  Both are forced to change their minds about how they choose to live.  Finding meaning in life.  For this book has a philosophical theme.  As the characters express their thoughts and critiques on philosophy, and various aspects of life.  They see the façades that people put on, and then proceed to describe the people without the façades.  While others might have illusions about their lives and avoid reality, Renée and Paloma want to engage with reality.  That means many of life’s aspirations will be disillusioned.  But they have intellectual aspirations, to enrich their life.   



The philosophy can be a bit random.  Some of the philosophical thoughts and critiques might be more for those who already know the philosophy described and can add their own understanding to the ideas.  

Questions to Consider while Reading the Book

•What is the raison d’etre of the book?  For what purpose did the author write the book?  Why do people read this book?
•What are some limitations of the book?
•To whom would you suggest this book?
•Who is Renée Michel?
•Who is Paloma Josse?
•Who is Kakuro Ozu?
•Who is Manuela?  
•How do Renée and Paloma become acquainted?  
•What ideas did Renée and Paloma have for their life?
•What are some philosophical thoughts and critiques?
•What façades do people put on?
•Why believe in illusions?
•What are the benefits and consequences of an autodidact? 

Book Details
Translator:            Alison Anderson
Publisher:             Europa Editions
Edition ISBN:      9781609450137
Pages to read:       308
Publication:          2008
1st Edition:           2006
Format:                 eBook 

Ratings out of 5:
Readability    4
Content          2
Overall          2