The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery is about hiding. The two main characters spend the whole book hiding from the rest of humanity. They feel (and actually are) much more intelligent than anyone around them. The first, Renee, is a hotel concierge and a widow. She spends the bulk of her time in her tiny apartment watching movies and reading vast amounts of books when she isn’t working at the hotel. She hides behind bad hair cuts, ungainly body appearance, meanness and feigned ignorance. She also seems to loathe most people. She would also appear to be a much older mellowed version of the other main character.
The other main character is Paloma. Like Renee she spends her time hiding. Some of it literal; in spaces in her apartment, rarely looked into by her family. She also hides behind feigned ignorance. She is not quite as good at it as Renee and her family just thinks she is weird.
The two are unaware of each other so they cannot give any moral support and they think they are alone with what can only be viewed as the curse of genius. Renee has come to accept the fact she is all alone; a singular intelligent person living in a world of people who are inferior. Paloma, being much younger, has decided to end it all because she can’t face life in hiding. She is going to kill herself on her thirteenth birthday.
The plot accelerates with the introduction of new resident who pushes both on a course that ends in the two meeting and forcing both of them out of hiding.
I loved the language used in this book. The richness of the language completely sold me on the idea that I was reading the journal entries of a couple geniuses. It has been a long time since I’ve had to get a dictionary out to look up unfamiliar words. Not the ordinary dictionary either. The big one with onion skin pages. Not just once in a while but every ten pages or so. When I started into my next book it felt watered down and pale. This feeling didn’t go away until I was half way through the second book after this one. The writing was just so detailed and vivid.
If I have one complaint it would have to be the word ‘elegant’. I couldn’t get over how many times it came up. Everything it seems is elegant.
I loved the scene where Renee told in a flash back what happened to her older much more beautiful sister. This is the reason she hides. But really the whole book was great. The author employed a nifty trick for the two voices in the book. Different fonts were used for the different characters.
You should read this book … now.