The Eloquence of the Hedgehog Review

The Eloquence of the Hedgehog
By: Muriel Barbery

Paige’s Rating: (3) of 5
Recommended for: Fiction Readers

Paloma and Renée hide both their true talents and their finest qualities from a world they suspect cannot or will not appreciate them. They discover their kindred souls when a wealthy Japanese man named Ozu arrives in the building. Only he is able to gain Paloma’s trust and to see through Renée’s timeworn disguise to the secret that haunts her. This is a moving, funny, triumphant novel that exalts the quiet victories of the inconspicuous among us.

I got this book sent to me in Istanbul and so I was excited to read it. I really enjoyed this book until the very end; needless to say for all the depth and beauty that was portrayed in the book, I felt the ending was a little cliché. It was like this witty and sweet first date where the goodnight kiss doesn’t come, or worse, it does and he ends up being one of those dudes who drools on you. Oh, it’s over even though there was so much potential.

This book really had a beautiful plot which was split between the life of an educated concierge and 12 year old girl who both felt it necessary to keep their intellect covered and thus, hide a large part of their personalities. Both characters live in the same building and the descriptions of the high class Parisians who also occupy it is done is a very simple yet effective way, from the point of views from the two main characters.

From these observations, the central and underlining themes of the book are exposed. I personally felt, however, that the main theme was not nearly as important or as interesting as the smaller ideas that were peppered through the book like chucks of jalapeños ready to bomb your taste buds. For example, “Can’t you tell when a person hates himself? He becomes a living cadaver, it numbs all his negative emotions…so that he won’t feel nauseated by who he is.” Or also, “…and maybe the greatest anger and frustration come not from unemployment and poverty…but from the feeling that you have no culture…How can you exist if you don’t know who you are?” There are more, but the idea is that there are some really nice nuggets of truth about human psychology.

The only down side is that a lot of this information is presented in an overly wordy tone. I understand that both characters are intellectual, but I found that their manner of speaking sometimes became too weighty and wordy. It was sometimes too rich and I wanted to skim some of the paragraphs. I felt this more with the dialogue of the concierge than the young girl, although, it was really hard to initially believe that a twelve year old girl would talk in such a tone.

Overall, the book is enjoyable. The plot is more interesting and developed than that of other books which have tried to weave story and philosophy together, and if the reader can get through some vocabulary, than it’s definitely worth a read. Barberry accomplishes a beautiful novel wound around a philosophical vein despite the ending leaving much to be desired. 

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