The Elegance of the Hedgehog

The Elegance of the Hedgehog




For whatever reason, I’m losing my ability to read French books; their language  sounds now usually dull and pompous to me. It is a strange phenomenon for someone who has devoured so many French books.

As I couldn’t anyway find this one in French in the US, I listened to its English version, and oh, what a delight!

Of course, if you have never lived in an apartment building with a “concierge”, this book may be difficult for you to appreciate in its full worth and beauty.

The “concierge” is so often this very nosy woman who manages to know everything about everyone, and who’s often caught “spying” behind a curtain and all the comings and goings around her “kingdom”. I remember the most serious insult my mother would give to someone a bit too nosy to her taste, by declaring: “Quelle concierge!” (“she’s so much like a concierge!”)

So to remain true to the regular picture, Renée has this real “concierge” façade, symbolized and lived out in the 2 parts of her apartment: one with a noisy TV, set on a stupid channel, and a back room where she spends hours delighting in philosophy books and the like.

This façade will collapse with the meeting of a new tenant, and of a smart young girl, Paloma, disgusted by the wealth and low cultural level of her parents and milieu.

This book is full of wit and I laughed a lot, through the reflections of Paloma and Renée.

Through it, I also discovered Purcell’s opera Dido and Aeneas!

In a word, I believe this book has reconciled me with French literature.

And here is the trailer of the movie! And my reaction to the movie.


In a bourgeois apartment building in Paris, we encounter Renée, an intelligent, philosophical, and cultured concierge who masks herself as the stereotypical uneducated “super” to avoid suspicion from the building’s pretentious inhabitants. Also living in the building is Paloma, the adolescent daughter of a parliamentarian, who has decided to commit suicide on her thirteenth birthday because she cannot bear to live among the rich. Although they are passing strangers, it is through Renée’s observations and Paloma’s journal entries that The Elegance of the Hedgehog reveals the absurd lives of the wealthy. That is until a Japanese businessman moves into the building and brings the two characters together.


Muriel Barbery (born 28 May 1969 in Casablanca, Morocco) is a French novelist and professor of philosophy.

arbery entered the École Normale Supérieure de Fontenay-Saint-Cloud in 1990 and obtained her agrégation in philosophy in 1993. She then taught philosophy at the Université de Bourgogne, in a lycée, and at the Saint-Lô IUFM.[1]

Her novel L’Élégance du hérisson (translated into English as “The Elegance of the Hedgehog”) topped the French best-seller lists for 30 consecutive weeks[2] and, reprinted 50 times, had by May 2008 sold more than a million copies.[3] Her first novel, Une Gourmandise, appeared in English translation as “Gourmet Rhapsody” in 2009.

Barbery currently lives in Japan, where she is composing her third novel.



20 thoughts on “The Elegance of the Hedgehog

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  5. So glad you loved this one. I need to see if I can get my hands on the movie as well at some point.

    Have a lovely holiday!


  6. Liked your review! I’m enjoying the book so much myself. I haven’t read many books from French Lit so for me this book is something very fresh. I watched the trailer of the movie and now I’m intrigued enough to watch it. Just need to hunt for it now.


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  10. I ended up watching the movie before reading the book. it was a disastrous thing to do. When I tried to read, images from movie kept intruding making it impossible for me to connect to the story on my own terms.


    • Too bad. I did watch the movie, but after the book. The movie made me want so much to eat Japanese food, and there was a Japanese restaurant next door to the theater! I’ll never forget that. But anyway, so loved the book and the movie. A Single Rose is very different, and much shorter, but each word counts.


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