Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Elegance of the Hedgehog

Book club choices inspire me to read outside my comfort zone, and I love that. Although I must admit my comfort zone has greatly expanded due to book clubs to the point I might not even have one anymore. I've recently joined a new book club (facilitated by a cross-country move). I love that the ladies are very organized and motivated to analyze the book. Every book has a leader that presents some background information on the book and author before we get started with our commentaries. The better the book, the more research I do as I'm reading or immediately after, so it's always a good sign when I want to know more.
This month's selection was The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery. Set in an elegant hotel in the center of Paris, the story mainly follows the musings of two characters: Renee, the building's concierge, and Paloma, a 12 year old living in the building. The book starts off telling you that Paloma is planning to kill herself on her 13th birthday because she has yet to meet an intellectual of her own equivalent.
The story unfolds with alternating chapters from each woman's perspective. During book club, the leader found quotes from the author that she rarely considered the readers' when writing the book and she didn't plan out the book beforehand. Sadly, both were evidenced in the pages.
The pacing of this book sadly mimics my running style. I often run 9 minute mile downhills, have some 10 minute flats and unfortunately some 13 min recoveries in between. Same can be said for this novel. At times, I was grooving on the points of view and philosophical analyzations. But, too often, the book lacked momentum and speed and lost me to floating eyes and my soft bed. As I've said countless times before, I want to care about the main character or characters. Here, Barbery succeeded. I was deeply saddened by the ending... and, no, it's not what you expect it to be, although death is surely involved. Also, I must admit (and I blame this partly on the book being translated from French) the writing at times left you cold and was hard to follow.
The author seemed determine to mock the unintelligent (or those not willing to run every few pages to a dictionary)... ironically, this was the main goal of the two protagonists as well. I can't say I'd recommend the book, except with the rare exception of the true literary snob. Even then, I'd make sure he/she knew to have a dictionary close at hand!
Rating: 3 Stars