There is a concierge who resides at No. 7, Rue de Grenelle in Paris, where she has served the inhabitants of its eight luxury apartments for 27 years.
Her name is Renee Michel; one of the two narrators introduced to readers is Muriel Barbery’s "The Elegance of the Hedgehog."
Madame Michel introduces herself as a 54-year-old widow with a peasantry background.
She finds it crucial in life to play the role of a homely, philistine and haggard concierge.
But, what readers quickly learn despite her outside demeanor and esthetics, she is almost completely different on the inside.
She may have quit school at the ripe age of 152, but Michel never ceased studying.
In particular readers are let into her studies of philosophies as Michel attempts to find herself.
A connoisseur of film and art, Michel’s cat is named Leo after her favorite author, Leo Tolstoy.
The second narrator in the novel is a 12-year-old girl, Paloma Josse, who lives in the hotel where Michel works as the concierge.
As a self-aware and highly intelligent girl, readers come to understand that Paloma is a unique and dynamic character who plans on committing suicide on her upcoming 13th birthday.
Barbery does a wonderful job portraying the depth of her two female protagonists, but also developing the many characters within "The Elegance of the Hedgehog."
Published by Europa Editions, Barbery’s original French version was translated into English by, Alison Anderson.
Prior to "The Elegance of the Hedgehog," Barbery’s first novel, "Gourmet Rhapsody," follows another resident of 7 Rue de Grenelle, Pierre Athens, a famous restaurant critic. This novel was also translated into English by Anderson.
"The Elegance of the Hedgehog" is a truly lovely and tragic story. It is an appropriate Valentine’s Day tearjerker but really a quick, enjoyable read for any time.