Book Reviews / The Latest

The Not So Elegant Hedgehog: a review of Muriel Barbery’s novel, “The Elegance of the Hedgehog”


I feel that I should start this review by saying that I have wanted to read this book for such a long time. After discovering the book, I thought that the title sounded intriguing and I had lots of people recommend the book to me, French and English speakers alike. It seemed to be a book that had really changed people’s perceptions of life and reading. It had touched a lot of the people I spoke with, and this made me want to read it even more. When a dear dear friend of mine sent this to me for my birthday this year, I was beyond happy. I was even happier when the book was picked by my book club to read. Giving me a book as a present is the easiest way to make me happy. I mean, I write a blog about books… it should not be a surprise. The hardest thing is, is that I didn’t like the book that much. And this book review makes me sad, because I don’t want my friend to think that I don’t love her gift or the kindness and thoughtfulness she used to pick it out for me.

But…

I don’t want to say this book was bad… but it also was not good. This book felt like it was narrated by a first year philosophy major who is just bursting at the seems with metaphysical learnin’. It was like the author went through a “Literary Theory for Dummies” book and picked out a theme from each chapter and wrote it into the book. The characters were mechanical, flat, completely uninspiring, and boring. I’m not sure if the author was trying to be haughty on purpose, but a lot of the observations and ‘profound’ thoughts came off as racist, uneducated, and bland.

And the weird romance with the Rene and Kakuro… It was like a weird interracial “Pretty Woman”. The story is written from the perspective of Rene for the most part, and yet, I had the impression that I hardly knew who she was, not to mention that she was annoying. And that Paloma kid. She oscillates between being the most stuck-up brat known to mankind and the well, the most stuck-up brat known to mankind.

I want to say that this book was lost in translation and that the French is better, but somehow I don’t think it is a matter of funky translation, but rather a problem at the very core of the writing. I looked on Goodreads to check if I wasn’t alone in my feelings and I saw that this book has created quite a polarised crowd: you either love it, or loathe it. And I am sadly in the latter category. I always feel upset when I’ve read a book I didn’t like, because no one wants to come away from an experience feeling unfulfilled and frustrated. I’m really not sure who would like this book? But if you’re out there… maybe you can explain why?

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