from Me and My Big Mouth
Hedgehog I started this book in the knowledge that it had sold over a million copies in its native France. That is a merde-load of books by anyone's standard.
For the first third I was seriously wondering what all the fuss was about. Nice premise, but no big deal. Perhaps there is something uniquely French in its appeal. Like Johnny Hallyday. Or horse meat. After all, it outsold the hyped-to-death Les Bienveillantes and spent longer in the bestseller charts than The Da Vinci Code so the French certainly liked it.
During the middle section I was beginning to warm to it. The book was working its charm. It was pretty good after all. Not a classic, mind, but not bad.
By the end I had fallen madly in love with it, the way I have, in turn, with Emanuelle Beart, Vanessa Paradis, Audrey Tatou and Soko. It is bloody marvelous. And yes, there was a tear in my eye as I turned the final pages.
Renee is the live-in concierge in a well-to-do Paris apartment block. She works hard to conform to the stereotype of her profession. She is short,ugly, has bad breath and a gruff manner. She has a fat and lazy cat, is always brewing up some unidentified cabbage broth concoction on the stove and is only acknowledged by the residents when some important package is arriving. She is of no particular consequence.
Except to the reader, of course. We discover that she is really a sparky, witty and erudite lover of the arts. A reader of philosophy and great literature. All things that she doggedly keeps hidden from the residents, fearful of appearing anything other than your typical grumpy concierge.
But when a new resident moves in to the building, Renee's charade is in danger of being exposed. Add to that an edgy subplot featuring a 13-year-old girl living in the apartment block who has decided to commit suicide and you have a story that picks you up and carries you along with it.
The Elegance Of The Hedgehog is as sparky, witty and engaging as the central character it plays host to. It is full of quotable lines (courtesy of translator Alison Anderson - there you go Bela!) and, whilst I doubt it will sell a million over here, it bloody well deserves to. It is published in September but if you have any way of getting hold of an advance proof then I would urge you to do just that.