“The Elegance of the Hedgehog” is an absolute joy. I read a library copy but I definitely want a copy of my own to keep.
Paloma Josse is twelve years old and she lives on the fifth floor of a Left Bank apartment block. She is extremely bright but she is isolated and plans to commit suicide on her thirteenth birthday.
Down in the basement is fifty-four year old concierge Renee Michel. She is seen as a dull but reliable servant, and she is happy to be seen that way. What the other residents of the apartment block don’t see though, is that once her door is she is reading, listening to music and watching films to engage with the beauty of art and nature.
The narrative is largely Renée’s story, but it is interspersed with excerpts from Paloma’s journals. The two narrative voices are clear, distinct and engaging.
Paloma is observant and, in her journal, she suggests that there may be more to the concierge than meets the eye:
“Madame Michel has the elegance of the hedgehog: on the outside, she’s covered in quills, a real fortress, but my gut feeling is that on the inside, she has the same simple refinement as the hedgehog: a deceptively indolent little creature, fiercely solitary – and terribly elegant.”
The apartment block’s newest resident, Japanese businessman Kakuro Ozu thinks so too and he instigates a friendship with Renee that helps her to deal with painful memories and begin to move out of her self-imposed seclusion.
Paloma is drawn in too and begins to find reasons for living.
But just as this strange family has come together something quite unexpected happens and the book comes to a sudden end.
The plot is simple, but there is much more to this book than that. It reminds you of so many things that make life wonderful – art, literature, music, ideas and so many wonderful small things. And it makes you think – do you judge by appearances, do you hide things about yourself and just what is important in life?
What more could you ask for from a book?!
(Translated by Alison Anderson.)