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Words of a Bibliophile

"It's only words, and words are all I have, to take your heart away." —Bee Gees

The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery

The Elegance of the Hedgehog - Muriel Barbery

I liked this book but not as much as I wanted to. A little more plot and a little less philosophical musing would've made it better. Two characters, the middle-aged working woman Renee and the 12-year-old rich girl Paloma, narrate the story in turn. Both are intelligent and have their own dissatisfaction with the world. While at first both of them seem cynically judgmental of most of the people around them, I grew to like Paloma more as the story progresses.

Both of the narrators spend a lot of time dissecting various issues philosophically, but Paloma's so-called profound thoughts are grounded in her observations of her immediate surroundings and seem more realistic. Renee's thoughts feel more abstract and 'out there' to me, especially her musings about art.

The twist which explains Renee's abhorrence of the upper class comes a little too late in the story and falls short of convincing me. That's also partly why it was easier for me to like Paloma compared to Renee. Paloma is a frustrated little girl who doesn't really know that much about the world, but Renee just seems like a bitter person. At one point she condemns privileged people who use incorrect grammar, saying that they disrespect beauty and thus deserve to die. Really now.

I also found it unrealistic that Renee and Paloma only meet in the last quarter of the book, talk a few times, and then suddenly Renee is sharing her deepest secret and considers Paloma the daughter she never had.

(show spoiler)

I did enjoy some of the humor in the story, especially the parts with Monsieur Ozu and Manuela. There's also a certain charm in the book, which discusses everything from Tolstoy to Blade Runner, from Eminem to Hikaru no Go (which is an excellent manga, by the way). The bittersweet yet hopeful ending hit me when I didn't expect it and turned things around a bit.