The Elegance of the Hedgehog

The Elegance of the Hedgehog


We are in the center of Paris, in an elegant apartment building inhabited by bourgeois families. Renée, the concierge, is witness to the lavish but vacuous lives of her numerous employers. Outwardly she conforms to every stereotype of the concierge: fat, cantankerous, addicted to television. Yet, unbeknownst to her employers, Renée is a cultured autodidact who adores art, philosophy, music, and Japanese culture. With humor and intelligence she scrutinizes the lives of the building's tenants, who for their part are barely aware of her existence.

Then there's Paloma, a twelve-year-old genius. She is the daughter of a tedious parliamentarian, a talented and startlingly lucid child who has decided to end her life on the sixteenth of June, her thirteenth birthday. Until then she will continue behaving as everyone expects her to behave: a mediocre pre-teen high on adolescent subculture, a good but not an outstanding student, an obedient if obstinate daughter.

Paloma and Renée hide both their true talents and their finest qualities from a world they suspect cannot or will not appreciate them. They discover their kindred souls when a wealthy Japanese man named Ozu arrives in the building. Only he is able to gain Paloma's trust and to see through Renée's timeworn disguise to the secret that haunts her. This is a moving, funny, triumphant novel that exalts the quiet victories of the inconspicuous among us.  (Summary and cover courtesy of


I loved this book.  It’s challenging, it artsy and it philosophical without being overdone or overbearing.  A lot of reviews claim the book to be pretentious, but that would imply that the book and characters have less culture it claims to possess and I fully believe it does.  Many of the characters reminded me of people I have seen or encountered at school and the mannerisms that people adapt.  I particularly love Paloma’s outlook and how she does not hesitate to adapt it.  Many people cannot replace long-held beliefs so easily.

Renée is the one who finally grows out of her shell at the end of the novel and embraces completely living.  This is a book that truly had me tempted to immediately start re-reading it because I know there were many things I missed.  I sorely want to reread “Anna Karenina” now and look up many of the other books mentioned.  I have a hunch this will become a lasting favorite for me!

Rating: 5 stars!

Who should read it? Anyone with interest in philosophy or looking to be challenged culturally.