The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery

I've been hearing about this book for the better part of a year, so I was very excited to finally start reading it. I was not disappointed. Translated from the original French, this book has two protagonists, from whose perspective each chapter is written. The first is a fifty-four year old widow who works and lives as the concierge of an apartment building that houses very wealthy families. She believes that, having been born poor and ugly, she has no place nor any right to use her considerable intelligence to climb further up the social latter. The second is a twelve year old girl who lives in said building. She is incredibly precocious, and has decided that she will kill herself by her thirteenth birthday unless the world can convince her otherwise.

This book is truly a remarkable piece of work. There's a little bit of philosophy one must slog through from time to time, but generally, it reads like two parallel journals of stasis, then disruption, then change. The prose is beautiful and the research considerable. I only wish the ending had been different. I won't spoil it for anyone besides to say that it left me in tears. I think it was the easy way out, though, as it would have been had it ended "happily ever after." A book such as this deserves to leave the reader wondering what happens next, not such a serious tone of finality. Aside from that one flaw, this is a masterful piece of writing, and I strongly encourage everybody to read it.


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