French:  L’élégance du hérisson

HighBridge Company 2009 , 9 hours and 35 mins
read by Barbara Rosenblat and Cassandra Morris

The Elegance of the Hedgehog is a novel by the French novelist and professor of philosophy Muriel Barbery. The book follows events in the life of a concierge, Renée Michel, whose deliberately concealed intelligence is uncovered by an unstable but intellectually precocious girl named Paloma Josse. Paloma is the daughter of an upper-class family living in the upscale Parisian apartment building where Renée works.” (Wikipedia)

Barbara Rosenblat is an award winning audio book narrator (who by the way has a horrid site of her own as well as possibly one of the lamest resumes I’ve seen, all I could think of when browsing was “poor Barbara” ). She has received 6 Audie Awards and 39 Golden Earphone Awards. And well deserved. I have also listened to Away by Amy Bloom also read by Barbara and was going to say Suite Française by Irène Némirovsky, only that I have listened to the French version and Barbara read the translated version. In The Elegance of the Hedgehog she reads Renée extremely well.

The book is not only quite popular now in North America (I have heard of two other people reading it in the same time as I was listening to it, and of two more who had purchased it and were going to read it) and of course I had no idea of that fact when I took it, I just saw it in the bookshop, read about it and through it and it seemed a good choice… It is a great choice.

The Elegance of the Hedgehog is an interposed narration of a 54 year old woman and a 12 year old girl who eventually get to know, appreciate and admire each other up to the point of considering themselves dear beloved friends.

At first, life is gloomy and although sheltered it is pointless and quite worthless, grey past, grey present and no foreseeable future; the author is so convincing and factual that as a reader you begin to reassess your own life, think of its meaning, of origins, of present and overall value; if you were to perish that very instant, or if your dear ones were to be taken from you by death… the arguments are saddening and I kept pausing to think, because regardless of what you’ve done, are doing or will be doing one simple fact remains: immortality is only for the gods, we are to succumb in the face of death. The terror that overtook me was phrased into the “hurry up and do something of value, leave something memorable behind”. Then I just started saying “I love you ”more, caressing and embracing my dear ones, being kinder to those less fortunate… come to think of it one second later and our house could explode from a gas leak or… and I am not going to continue as the possibilities are countless.

Then, things gradually change for both main characters, they discover that life is worth living, there is love, there are cherished people, if you open your heart to others chances are that they will respond and open their hearts to you. You begin to enjoy the newly discovered meaning of life and treasure what you have even more, become hopeful if you do not have much; all is not lost, happiness is not mythical: love can get you at age 54, flowers do make us smile, there is beauty not only in art, but in ourselves. I do not want to disclose the end, it is abrupt and from personal experience expected, but you should see it for yourselves.

The book is memorable. Craftily written, beautifully developed, there is a continuous wonder that comes at you, via the characters but also the artistic path built by them: I started looking into Ozu movies, borrowed all my classical music favourites from the library, considered re-reading Dostoyevsky, listened to Great Expectations(one of my much-loved childhood books, my first one in English)… I recommend The Elegance of the Hedgehog heartily, it will wake you up a bit if you feel dusted by life, hard work and routine, it will make you remember gratitude and forgiveness, and it will bring you at peace with the ones that are gone and live in your memories…

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