The Elegance of The Hedgehog

My husband and I are trying to read books together. Let me first recap on our book reading history:
1. He picked first, we read The Hobbit. It was fine, but you know, it’s the Hobbit. Having read it before, he read some of it and then stopped.
2. I picked Night, a short, true, and sad account of the holocaust by a survivor. Once he found out it was sad, he pretty much refused to read it. The books stayed checked out for over a year.
3. About two years later, we resumed with him picking The Elegance of the Hedgehog. It sucks.

 For the story that it ultimately aims to tell, The Elegance of The Hedgehog could have told better. With a little bit of editing, it could have told a slightly different story much better. The first half after the jump will remain spoiler free, the second half will not. Seeing as I don’t advise you read the book, I think you should read the spoiler section too.
The book is written in a quickly tiring journal entry style, like novels I remember from my childhood. The two main characters write in alternating entries. One is a concierge in her fifties, the other a young girl who is very intelligent for her age. They both live in the same building and mostly despise everyone else there. The concierge is well read and spends her days assuming the role of a moron, because she doesn’t want anyone to know. The little girl does this to a certain extend as well, as she feels her brilliance will bring unwanted attention. The girl intends to kill herself due to little faith in humanity. One day, a new tenant moves into the building and changes everything.

I understand that tone of the reasons for writing in first person is to show a bit of style for your character, but the concierge was maddening to read. There were so many superfluous adjectives, and the sentences never ended. The style is sensible for a journal entry, but it was exhausting to read. The girls entries were more bearable to read. Both had some good points and interesting moments. At its best, it still felt like a disjointed collection of opinions on different matters comprised into a loose telling a story about two similar souls.

 Here are the SPOILERS (for this book and Harry Potter):

A little more space here so you can’t accidentally see…

Just a little more…

Ok the concierge dies. she chases a homeless drunk man into the street and dies. And the little girl decides to live because the concierge dies. This is after waiting forever for the man mentioned on the back of the book to show up in the story, and only moments after he brings harmony to their lives. It almost seems like they can live happy, interdependent lives, without regarding the separation imposed upon them by society and their differing economic levels. The concierge dies as if to fulfill the prophesy of her sister, who also died after fraternizing with a different class. The concierge had grown up poor, and believed if she grew close to rich people, she would die. As soon as she did, well, she did. Die, that is. It also took 100 pages to get to the plot of the story, which makes sense I suppose if all you are going to do is kill someone. You’ve got to waste a bit of time first.

I’m not against killing some one off in a work of fiction. Let me clear that up. I am against spending a great deal of time divulging details and seemingly useless omens to them only ascribe to them in the end, after the character has chosen to abandon them. I am against people dying because an omen forbade them from talking to rich people. And, for that reason, it was an irrational and senseless death. She felt she died as a consequence of her better life, after chasing a drunk homeless man into the street. The real lesson here?


Especially when you’re life is going so good. It’s great that she felt love and all before she died, but letting someone experience love and then die is sort of like saying that love dies on earth, that once you are elevated above your depression you are released from your life. Which would mean that life is ultimately depressing while you live it. That I strongly disagree with, and feel a bit annoyed that I would spend time in my life, which I enjoy very much, reading a book that tells me that I don’t enjoy life, because if i did, I would be dead.

I know that I am manipulating a small point of the story to be more dramatic than it really is, but this is a protagonist that was killed at the end of a rather boring book. I guess I need the ends to justify the mean in literature, and even though the middle of the book was not all that bad, it lead to an unjustifiable end.

Of course, the ends don’t always justify with the means in life, but this was not a non-fiction story. I find lazy to let it end this way. And, if you are going to lazily end a story, make it a lazy happy ending, not a lazy disaster. Something about that seems so careless to me. I felt the same way about the 6th book of Harry Potter. Something about the circumstances leading to death were so lazy. Sure, the seventh book was about as good as it could be, but it had to heal the lazy death in the sixth. To be clear, I don’t have any issues with the death in the fourth book. I don’t think that no one should die in fiction, but i do think when you kill someone in responsible fiction, you need not make it lazy.

So. The Elegance of the Hedgehog started slow, became slightly interesting when the plot showed up, but then ultimately felt a bit lazy. The writer is a philosopher, and there is a lot of philosophy in the book, so perhaps there is a better interpretation for all this. Maybe it’s a better book than I understand. All the same, I did not like it.


Other random opinions: Consider, Seek, Consider with a very good point made about the title, Consider

My husband’s opinion? Consider, but he did major in philosophy.

Reviews may continue to be written in this style, where the title indicates whether you should Avoid, Consider, or Get the item being reviewed. I am assessing other reviewers opinions with the links to their articles. My husband’s opinion is based on our post book discussion.


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