The Elegance of the Hedgehog Reviewed

elegance of the hedgehog next to cup and plate and glasses

I’m thrilled at the positive response I’ve had from friends and family members about this book club. Though I didn’t get a lot of online comments on my last book club post, I did receive a few more book recommendations, and a lot of people encouraged me to keep going.

elegance of the hedgehogIn fact, one of my friends suggested this month’s book: The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery. It’s an adult fiction, but beyond that, I can’t quite pinpoint its genre. It touches on dramatic moments in the characters’ lives without feeling like a drama. It has tragic moments without feeling like a tragedy. It has an air of realism, but some chapters feel surreal in their poetic beauty.

Although the book keeps things clean, I probably wouldn’t recommend it to younger readers unless they have a well-developed sense of the English language. On more than one occasion, I needed to grab a dictionary to fully understand some of the sentences, and every once in a while I had to do a quick Google search to grasp references to classic literature and historical figures.

But if you (or your teens) feel ready to tackle a challenging, yet rewarding, book, here are my thoughts.

The Story Unravels Slowly

I prefer a fast-paced adventure most days. If the characters haven’t experienced an intense inciting incident within the first few chapters, then I often feel disappointed.

rosebudBut I didn’t mind the pacing in this book.

Each chapter revealed just a few more details about the characters, their hopes and dreams, and their personalities. The slow unveiling was almost like watching a rosebud swell, bloom, and shed its petals. By the end, I felt as though I had witnessed something truly inspiring that wouldn’t happen again.

The Characters Drove Me Crazy

While the pacing was an incredible slow burn, I don’t think I’ve ever felt more frustrated with such perfectly sculpted, well-developed characters. They had complete backstories, faults that kept them human, and rich personalities that made me love them.

But on the other hand, they were so well-educated and so literate that they felt pompous and arrogant to me. Each sentence, paragraph, and page seemed to scream, “I’m smart. I’m smarter than you. I’m so smart that you cannot even comprehend the depths of my intellect.”

The characters constantly looked down on seemingly normal people for following their regular routine. They dissected their family members, friends, and neighbors and didn’t like what they saw. And in a way, I felt as though they were analyzing me and found me sorely lacking.

The Language Is Lovely

I love the power of words. I love their sound and rhythm. I love their multiple meanings, and I love the difference a single word can make in a sentence.

pencil and notebook doodleMuriel Barbery clearly understands the magic of words. She strikes a breathtaking balance of long and short sentences. She’s unafraid to delve deeply into her paragraphs and settings, but she knows when to pull back and keep details delightfully short.

Time and time again, I found myself marking pages so I could go back and reread particularly memorable quotes. Barbery constantly dropped little pearls of wisdom on each page, and I know that I didn’t spot all of them the first time around. I may have to read The Elegance of the Hedgehog again in the near future to see what else I can pull from the book.

I Both Hated and Loved This Book

I’ve rarely felt such a roller coaster of emotions when reading a book. I started out hating the characters, then I loved them, and then I hated them again, and I loved them again. Back and forth, I couldn’t decide whether I wanted to throw the book away or recommend it to everyone I met.

Ultimately, I enjoyed it, but I completely understand if you or someone you know found it frustrating or confusing. This isn’t a casual book that you should pick up, read for a few hours, and then finish it the same day. Almost every chapter deserves careful meditation and thoughtful consideration, which takes a lot of time away from a busy schedule.

Some Questions to Discuss

Based on the conversations I’ve had with some of my readers, most of you would rather read what I have to say and simply leave it at that. And I understand that taking the time to comment on a blog may seem like a lot of effort when you’re in a hurry.

But this is a book club, and since I know some people may want to host a physical discussion about the book later, I’ll leave you some questions that you can consider on your own.

  • Did you find any quotes particularly memorable?
  • Did you find Renee and Paloma’s use of stereotypes frustrating or fitting?
  • Does the language feel too wordy or cumbersome at times?
  • Do the characters seem relatable despite their intelligence and intellect?

Please feel free to share your answers in the comment section below, or ask a question if you like.

The Book for Next Month

Johnathan Strange and Mr NorrellThis next month’s JenniBee Book Club will focus on Johnathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke. I’ll review and open the discussion March 4, but remember that you can continue to read and comment on past book club posts whenever you have the time.

I purchased the book from Amazon, and it definitely looks like a doozy with over 1,000 pages. I’ll have to read at a pretty fast clip to have it done in time for the next discussion.

Once again, if you want to read it for free, I suggest going through your public library or through the Overdrive.com. But keep in mind that Overdrive tends to have a massive waiting list, so you might not receive the book before I review it.

Good luck! I look forward to yet another fun reading adventure with you.