Saturday, 6 February 2010
The Elegance of the Hedgehog
by Muriel Barbery
The what of the what?
French bestseller - it keeps selling and selling. Now it’s here, and is building slowly, and is about to take off big time.
And is it worth it?
Run and buy it quick. Very funny, full of fantastic juicy insights, tres tres French.
Et cet ’edgehog?
That would be Renée, concierge of a fabulously upmarket apartment block where the future prime minister, the country’s top food critic and other luminaries reside.
As Pandora, the little girl who is Renée’s co-narrator, explains it, spiky Renée “has the same simple refinement as a hedgehog: a deceptively indolent little creature, fiercely solitary - and terribly elegant”.
How does Pandora know?
She’s 12, and plans to commit suicide and burn the place down on her 13th birthday. Yet she’s a lovely child - she just feels that life has no meaning. Then she meets those who gives it meaning.
Slapstick sometimes - an encounter with a Japanese toilet that plays Mozart’s Requiem, hiccups on a proposal of love - but mostly it’s the way Renée and Pandora satirise the world of the shallow, cruel rich.
Renée is doing an ace imitation of a typical concierge: flat feet, dull stare - while secretly living the life of an aesthete. Pandora is a manga fan, super-bright, witty, almost always silent.
And then, for the first time in generations, an apartment is sold, and a Japanese gentleman moves in. He’s the hub that connects and humanises the residents: the idle rich, the tramp who sleeps outside in his cardboard box…
Plotty and gripping?
Oh no, this story moves gently along, interrupted only by the reader’s guffaws as Renée and Pandora slice into the false lives of the rich and the affectations of the intellectual.
It’s a buy?
A wonderful book.