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The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery

I had been told that The Elegance of the Hedgehog would make me cry. For me, the ability to make a reader cry is high praise, and even though the older I get, the easier it is to make me cry, it is still a rare book that has this effect on me.

It happened when I read Charlotte Gray, and every time I read Dr Seuss’s Oh, the Places You’ll Go. I was close in Behind the Scenes at the Museum and Commonwealth, but not quite there.

But my eyes were completely dry when I read The Elegance of the Hedgehog.

That doesn’t mean that I didn’t enjoy Muriel Barbery’s book that is primarily about the relationship between a concierge and a young girl in a wealthy apartment building in France. The two misfits meet and find they have much in common.

The book is not just about relationships, but also contains overt commentary on class and stereotypes, with the concierge revealing hidden depths of knowledge and tastes more refined than those of the wealthy residents she served. However, much of the social commentary seemed a little heavy-handed. There was a sense that poor is good and rich is bad, unless you are disdainful of the rich in your own family. There were clichés of the wealthy but shallow sister and mother and the good natured but brow-beaten father, while the one kind rich person seemed to be considered to be a novelty to those he encountered.

Barbery does a fine job of setting the scene and introducing the different characters in the book. Her characters were likeable, despite their flaws and anxieties. However, The Elegance of the Hedgehog is an enjoyable read, if not ground breaking or particularly moving (to me, at least).



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