The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery

The Elegance of the Hedgehog was the feel good book for whatever year it came out in. A rich and gifted twelve year old girl oppressed by the lack of moral value in her family and decides to kill herself on her thirteenth birthday, but not before writing a diary of her profound thoughts.  A highly intelligent concierge hides behind a stereotype, indulging in art, literature and philosophy while maintaining the façade of drudgery. An unlikely (read: highly likely) friendship!

So I expected twee, philosophising and love. I did not expect a crazy high level of artistic smugness and low levels of racism! Here is the unlikely best seller that delivers all of the above.

I disliked it from the start. It begins with a judgemental attitude and a self-satisfied air about its use of language and just keeps on. You get chapters alternating between the housekeeper and the girl and both of them are very sure about what they think is good and beautiful and incredibly dismissive of anyone else’s viewpoint. They’re both very sure of being pigeon-holed or stereotyped but then resort to the same shorthand for the behaviour of those around them. In their world there are good people and bad people and they are good and anyone who doesn’t believe in their ideas of beauty and morality is bad.

Ugh. Here are some quotes that pissed me off. “Whoever heard of a maid and a

Versailles – the standard of living to which the appartment block members are accustomed

concierge making use of their afternoon break to ponder the cultural significance of interior decoration?” Delivered sarcastically, but seriously Muriel, why would people assume they wouldn’t? Or when the kid considers why people burn cars and then meets some rich parents with a new baby adopted from Thailand: “Theo might want to burn cars some day. Because it’s a gesture of frustration and anger… because you’ve been torn between cultures, between incompatible symbols… What do you do if your culture will always be that of a Thai fishing village and of Parisian grands bourgeois at the same time?” Well, you burn cars I guess because you’re Asian? WHAT THE HELL.

 

Ok now I’m too angry to talk about Paris. Which is a shame because I love Paris. Paris is everything Hedgehog wants to be but is not. Beautiful, artistic, eclectic, welcoming. They go to lots of fancy places in the book and we went to some too. Angelina’s for the best hot chocolate of time, amazing bakeries and lots of fancy streets and antique shops. If I were the rich kid in the book I would try to appreciate the wealth and beauty around me. At the very least she could do something to help someone other than herself. They’re in the most beautiful place in the world but it’s all whine whine whine. LAME.

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