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The Huffington Post: "Why the Elegance of the Hedgehog Is For Grownups"

Date: Mar 25 2010

This week I'd like to take a page from Gretchen Rubin, who blogs over on The Happiness Project (and here at HuffPo as well!). From time to time, Gretchen will identify a book or movie that she thinks encapsulates certain key ideas about happiness and blog about them. (Here's one example: a post about the movie Junebug.) I did this recently for adulthood and the film Up In The Air.

In that vein, I've just finished reading Muriel Barbery's The Elegance Of The Hedgehog for my book club. This is a very small, intimate novel about an exceedingly well-educated concierge in a Paris apartment building and her relationships with its tenants. In addition to thoroughly enjoying it, here are five reasons I think that this book is essential reading for grown ups:

1. It's about social class. Not a very American topic, I grant you. (Unless you bought into the whole John Edwards "Two Americas" thing- oh those were the days...). But boy, does it resonate over here in the U.K. right now, where social mobility is a major theme in the upcoming British elections. (Not to mention a time-honored theme in France, where the novel is set.) And to me, that's a very grown-up topic for a novel.

2. It's about the possibility of change. Which is - perhaps more than anything else - what defines adulthood, at least for me. Sure, all those personality tests I've taken basically confirm that I'm the same person I've always been. But growing up is about being open to change. It's about knowing that - however sure you are of yourself - there's always a possibility that you'll discover something new. Or find out that something you thought was closed off to you is actually within reach. Or just recognize when it's time to make a bold move.

3. It's about love. But not of the sappy, head-over-heels variety. Rather, it's about the love of one's friends. It's about the love you can experience when you connect with strangers. And it's about the possibility - but just that - of romantic love.

4. It has an appropriately bittersweet ending. Some will no doubt be disappointed by how this book ends. I won't spoil it for you. But as a die-hard fan of feelbad movies, I loved reading a book where the ending was less than 100 percent hunky-dorey. That's life, as they say.

5. It's about Paris. And what - pray tell - is more grown up than that?

By Delia Lloyd