Madame Michel has the elegance of the hedgehog: on the outside she is covered with quills, a real fortress, but my gut feeling is that on the inside, she has the same simple refinement as the hedgehog: a deceptively indolent little creature, fiercely solitary – and terribly elegant.
I just finished reading The Elegence of the Hedgehog for my little book group here at work. I was looking forward to this one, largely because one of my BYU professors, Louise Plummer, had listed it as a new favorite. When an English professor with a superb sense of humor says she likes a book, I will probably read it.
The book follows two characters that live in the same, high-end apartment in Paris. One is a middle-aged pillow-soft woman named Renée, the concierge of the apartment; the other is a 12-year old girl, Paloma, whose parents own one of the opulent apartments.
From the get go, Paloma is not an ordinary 12-year old. She’s hiding her intelligence from her family and secretly plotting to set the house on fire and commit suicide on her thirteenth birthday. You like her already, right?
Then there’s Renée who is another secret intelligentsia, playing the role of the indolent concierge for the rich and powerful. She calls herself, “short, ugly and plump,” and strives to fill her stereotypical role as a working-class nobody despite a love of Dutch painting, Japanese films and Tolstoy.
That’s right. She loves Tolstoy. She has lines memorized from Anna Karenina, a book I’ve tried to read twice and sadly haven’t managed to conquer it.
Reading The Elegance of the Hedgehog made me feel intellectual as I related to the two characters, athough it also made me feel a bit on the dim side when I had to continually look up vocabulary. But it made me think.
How often do we put out a stereotype of ourselves, play the roles that we are supposed to play, and keep our personalities, philosophies and passions hidden? Or perhaps with the people around us, we only see them for their roles or social monikers—used-car salesman, stay-at-home mom, investment banker, cashier…
I don’t have any answers, just some thoughts. Often, I hurry through the line at the grocery store because I want to get home and only briefly thank the cashier. I could do better. I could at least say more than, “thank you,” and add “for the groceries” to my gratitude. Perhaps that would make it more acknowledging. I wonder what the person who stocks the produce at the Smith’s is currently reading. Perhaps it’s The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, another classic that I have attempted to conquer but have twice failed. Maybe the produce guy can follow stream of consciousness better than I can. More power to him.
Anyway, what I wanted to tell you was that I really enjoyed reading this book even if it made me feel lacking in the vocabulary department. And I also enjoyed drawing an “elegant hedgehog” for you. Isn’t he, well, elegant?
Have you read this book? Did you like it?