‘The Elegance of the Hedgehog’ by Muriel Barbery

A well-crafted, sensitive and funny book that digs into the ambiguity of the living souls and minds of the two protagonists; Renee, a middle aged concierge (who enjoys reading Kant), and Paloma, a highly gifted 12-year old, who doesn’t seem to relate to the masses.

The way I’ve perceived this book is as an exploration of our lives’ layers, from their ordinary existence to their extraordinary meaning. While we’re too busy thinking about creating epic moments and living highly memorable ones, our existence actually flows into the meaningless void of the infinite human condition. (A bit too philosophical, I know, but this is my ‘translation’ of Muriel Burbery’s writing).

Paloma and Renee, initially purposefully isolating themselves from the world, in an attempt to escape the mediocracy and arrogance so often encountered around them, have managed to eventually find their own meaning of life, interpreted through each one’s views, feelings and expectations. Once they meet , they finally acknowledge they are not fighting the battle alone. They find a confident and an ‘intellectual partner’ in one another, a reflection of each one’s mind, rekindling their hope and curing their souls.

Personal Note

On a personal note, I’ve seen it as an introspection of what really is worth living for – the ordinary joys, the material world, or the more substantial essence of life. Probably the answer lays somewhere in the middle, where one can have the best of both worlds, between a Kantian approach towards exploring the limits of our knowledge and existence, and the trivial matters of our consumerist society that we become attached to, choosing things over ideas and ideals.

Favourite Quotes

“I thought: pity the poor in spirit who know neither the enchantment nor the beauty of language.”

“Personally I think that grammar is a way to attain beauty.”

“For the first time in my life I understood the meaning of the word ‘never’. And it’s really awful. You say the word a hundred times a day but you don’t really know what you’re saying until you’re faced with a real ‘never again’.”

My Goodreads rating of the Elegance of the Hedgehog.

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