The Elegance of the Hedgehog

When I think about all the daily miracles in the world, one of the most amazing is the infinite creativity that streams at us every day. Musicians continue to take a few basic notes and turn them into new rhythms and sounds, artists dip their paintbrushes into the same pigments that have been around for centuries and create new combinations of colors and shapes. And writers create new characters, new plots, new poems, new ideas from the same old words that have been around since the first story-tellers entertained their friends around a campfire. We’re all dipping into the same limitless pool of inspiration, and filtering it through our own experience and personality. The results are sometimes clumsy, sometimes brilliant, and sometimes awe-inspiring.

Muriel Barbery put her hand into that pool and pulled up The Elegance of the Hedgehog, a story that shimmers with intelligence and insight. Alternately erudite, earthy, funny and touching, the tale is told from two points of view: that of a lonely, precociously intelligent young girl and that of the self-educated concierge of the posh Parisian condo in which the girl lives with her clueless family. The girl’s family believe she is surly, slow, and perhaps psychotic, and she allows them to think it. The concierge, knowing her position is one generally assumed to be held by persons of low intelligence, goes to great lengths to hide her knowledge of music, art, good food, and literature from the world. But a new tenant moves into the building who recognizes the superior minds of both the girl and the concierge, and their covers are blown.

Translated from the French by Alison Anderson, The Elegance of the Hedgehog was a literary sensation in France in 2007, and has been read by millions in Europe. It’s a gem of a book, told with elegance and wit. I loved it.

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