This elegant novel was translated from the original French. It is set in Paris, in a posh apartment building. The two main characters are a secretly genius concierge and a suicidal secretly genius 12-year-old girl. The book was hard for me to get into at first. It consists of back and forth chapters from the perspectives of the two main characters. Initially these chapters were mostly their “philosophizing” and making keen observations about their surroundings. About half-way through the book it really kicks into gear when a rich Japanese gentleman moves into the building. At that point I couldn’t put the book down, and quickly devoured the remaining chapters. Another interesting character is a Portuguese cleaning woman, who was “born under a fig tree in Faro” as the concierge puts it. The general theme is that people have depths beyond what you would expect based on their social status, ethnicity or age. Given that the novel was full of high-minded ideas, I was truly impressed that it didn’t come off as pretentious. It really got at the true nature of things and was elegantly written. Here is an excerpt that illustrates my point; it is from the concierge’s perspective about her cat:
“I smile to myself, thinking about the big fat windbag who has been my partner through these years of widowhood and solitude, and I smile sadly, tenderly, because, seen from death, our close relations with our domestic animals no longer seem to be something minor to be taken for granted, given their everyday nature; ten years of a lifetime have crystallized in Leo, and I take the measure of how the ridiculous, superfluous cats who wander through our lives with all the placidity and indifference of an imbecile are in fact the guardians of life’s good and joyful moments, and of its happy web, even beneath the canopy of misfortune.”
I put The Elegance of the Hedgehog in the “must read” category and rate it an elegant 4 artichokes. If not for it’s slow start I would have rated it even higher.