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Discussion of The Elegance of the Hedgehog

Members of the forum choose and read a new book every month together, and then discuss it. Each book of the month get's it's own whole subforum in this forum. Click here to nominate books for book of the month.

How do you rate The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery?

1 star - poor, recommend against reading it
2
17%
2 stars - okay, fair
4
33%
3 stars- good, recommend it
3
25%
4 stars - excellent, amazing
3
25%
 
Total votes : 12

Discussion of The Elegance of the Hedgehog

Post Number:#1  Postby Scott » 01 Nov 2011, 22:44

Please use this topic to discuss the November 2011 book of the month, The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery. Wait to read this topic until you have read the book because this topic will contain spoilers.

What do you think of the book? How do you feel about the translation? Are there any quotes or short passages from the book that you consider particularly noteworthy?

I am still reading the book, so I will wait until I am done to comment much further.

So far I have enjoyed the intellectual commentary delivered by the narrator. In that way, the book reminds me of something I like very much about the previous books of the month Flowers for Algernon and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, both of which are also narrated usefully in the first-person with the addition of feeling like the fictional narrator has actually taught me something. What do you think?
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Re: Discussion of The Elegance of the Hedgehog

Post Number:#2  Postby Patricia rose » 07 Nov 2011, 12:58

I enjoyed The Elegance of the Hedgehog. The narrative voice is appealing and I liked the side by side stories - the young girl and the concierge. However the plot is so predictable as to be boring. And I got sick of the self pity of the characters. I agree there is a similarity to The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, but I liked the protagonist much more.
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Re: Discussion of The Elegance of the Hedgehog

Post Number:#3  Postby sophiepoop » 07 Nov 2011, 15:15

Not sure how this forum works. I seem to be responding to someone's critique. I merely wanted to say that I thought the book less a novel than a class dissertation on two philosophical arguments. Both main characters seemed like kid's cutout paper dolls, each representing a different philosophical idea. Didn't believe in either cutout for the time it took to finish a sentence.
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Re: Discussion of The Elegance of the Hedgehog

Post Number:#4  Postby naragus » 07 Nov 2011, 17:26

Í got bored with this book but I read it in a spanish translation. Was it because of the translation? the book? me? In fact I´m not so confortable with books without much dialogue matter how hard I try. As for philosophy I prefer books about philosophy, if I read a book it is usually becaouse of my interest in the story or the characters and this was not the case.
However the analogy with our repetitive efforts in the wrong directions and the flies hitting the windows is a very good one.
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Re: Discussion of The Elegance of the Hedgehog

Post Number:#5  Postby sophiepoop » 07 Nov 2011, 22:08

it's late and I'm anxious to go upstairs and read, BUT your interest in characters, (frustrated here as there were no characters to be interested in - just ideas masquerading as stick figures) is exactly why you were bored with the book, not, I think, because of the spanish translation.
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Re: Discussion of The Elegance of the Hedgehog

Post Number:#6  Postby naragus » 10 Nov 2011, 16:29

[quote="sophiepoop"]it's late and I'm anxious to go upstairs and read, BUT your interest in characters, (frustrated here as there were no characters to be interested in - just ideas masquerading as stick figures) is exactly why you were bored with the book, not, I think, because of the spanish translation.[/quote]
Thank you for that. Also it is hard for me to like french authors.
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Re: Discussion of The Elegance of the Hedgehog

Post Number:#7  Postby Geneen Karstens » 15 Nov 2011, 16:01

I'm glad to see that I was not the only one who didn't enjoy this book. Maybe it's. Because I just finished a philosophical
novel, but I simply could not get into The Elegance of the Hedgehog. As a matter of fact I didn't finish it. I am ashamed to say that because I rarely quit a book i've started.
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Re: Discussion of The Elegance of the Hedgehog

Post Number:#8  Postby kivin786 » 16 Nov 2011, 02:41

hi,

thanks for helping me
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Re: Discussion of The Elegance of the Hedgehog

Post Number:#9  Postby naragus » 16 Nov 2011, 10:25

Geneen Karstens wrote:I'm glad to see that I was not the only one who didn't enjoy this book. Maybe it's. Because I just finished a philosophical
novel, but I simply could not get into The Elegance of the Hedgehog. As a matter of fact I didn't finish it. I am ashamed to say that because I rarely quit a book i've started.


Geneen, don`t be ashamed to quit a book. We will not leave long enough to read all the good books that are published. Don`t waste your time on the ones that you don´t like.
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Re: Discussion of The Elegance of the Hedgehog

Post Number:#10  Postby NancyJillThames » 18 Nov 2011, 14:52

Because I, like Renee, Paloma, and Kakuro, understand the role Beauty plays in our lives, I was inspired by this book. It made me want to continue looking past outward appearances and into people's souls to gain appreciation for their significance in life. It took longer for me to finish this book because of the beautifully crafted sentences. I read them until I squeezed out every drop of beauty I could. Muriel Barbery is a complex writer due to her being a philosopher, but I enjoyed getting to know her through "The Elegance of the Hedgehog." Thank you, Scott, for suggesting this for book of the month for November.
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Re: Discussion of The Elegance of the Hedgehog

Post Number:#11  Postby Schmunzelmonster » 18 Nov 2011, 18:45

In my opinion the characters were one dimensional. Renee and Paloma both seemed very presumptuouse, although they accused everyone of the same thing. There was a slight development in their point of view and behaviour, but it didn't seem significant in the overall storyline. In addition, I think that Palomas age was not chosen well. If she woud have been portrayed a few years older, to me, she would have felt more authentic. One minor point, my niece just turned 13 and is so happy that now finally she belongs to the magical club of teenagers. Paloma is 12 but in the book is referred to as a teenager. Maybe it's a problem with translation or a difference in culture, but that bugged me while reading it. The one redeeming thing of this book was Kakuro. His character was promissing and I wish Ms Barberry would have explored his possibilities more. But as it is he misses depth too. All in all to me this is another book that shows that it's not enough to through in some big words and a little philosophy to create a story that touches the reader or at the least educates him/her.
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Re: Discussion of The Elegance of the Hedgehog

Post Number:#12  Postby sophiepoop » 18 Nov 2011, 22:50

you is altogether correct, Sir.
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Re: Discussion of The Elegance of the Hedgehog

Post Number:#13  Postby Francine » 28 Nov 2011, 07:24

hello
Thanks for provide me information about this topic because this will help me.
Thanks
Regards
Francine
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Re: Discussion of The Elegance of the Hedgehog

Post Number:#14  Postby Scott » 01 Dec 2011, 18:58

How do you all enjoy the ending? I think the ending fit the book in that IMO the book did not have the greatest or most exciting plot but was interesting in a thoughtful, even sort of way.

I worry that maybe much was 'lost in translation' in this book. For instance, often times the narrators would talk in detail about the wording of their own and other characters' dialogue. Renee would even talk about the differences between subtly differently worded responses she could make, e.g. about how to ask to go to the bathroom. I have no way of being sure, but it seems very plausible that this all was much more interesting in its original language.

One thing that really hurt my ability to read the book is that I think there was an error when I downloaded it to my Nook and thus all the font was almost the same, meaning I had to rely mostly on the context to determine whether Paloma or Renee was narrating. This was also distracting since sometimes they each would get off into tangential, general commentary.

I think the author has a delightful and cleverly subtle sense of humor which showed during the book. For some reason, I found the whole scene in the bathroom at Kakuro's apartment to be hilarious.

Here are a few quotes from the book that I highlighted while reading:

We have to live with certainty that we'll get old and that it won't look nice or be good or feel happy. and tell ourselves that it's now that matters: to build something, now, at any price, using all our strength. Always remember that there's a retirement home waiting somewhere and so we have to surpass ourselves every day, make every day undying. Climb our own personal Everest and do it in such a way that every step is a little bit of eternity.


I highlighted the above quote from slightly before the middle of the book as I read it because I enjoyed the words so much. Incidentally, I think it is now particularly interesting in light of the ending and the overall themes of the book, namely the idea of mortality, beauty and the feeling of an eternal moment in the momentary appreciation beauty.

Here is another quote from the book that I highlighted, this one by Renee in regards to Ozu:

Never in my life have I felt so at ease. How can I explain? For the first time, I feel utterly trusting, even though I am not alone. Even with Manuela, to whom I would gladly entrust my life, I do not have this feeling of absolute security that comes when one is sure that understanding is mutual. Entrusting one's life is not the same as opening up one's soul, and although I love Manuela like a sister, I cannot share with her the things that constitute the tiny portion of meaning and emotion that my incongruous existence has stolen from the universe.

I think these are some very interesting and original thoughts on the basis of the deepness of loving relationship between so-called soul-mates or even that of some platonic, best friends. In the context of the story I think it speaks to the author's choice to have so little happen romantically between Renee and Ozu, of which all hope is lost upon her death, yet we can see it is clear something significant certainly was there.

Here is another quote I highlighted from Renee. This does not have much special significance to the story but I just really appreciated the depressing statement in itself:

Poverty is a reaper: it harvests everything inside us that might have made us capable of social intercourse with others, and leaves us empty, purged of feeling, so that we may endure all the darkness of the present day.


Finally, this is another quote from Renee right near the end that I think interestingly contrasts to her earlier statements regarding poverty and such:

...for those who are content, class struggle suddenly seems less important, I muse, surprised that my rebellious consciousness has yielded in this way.


I wonder whether or not that sentence reveals much of the intent of the author in drawing her characters. In other words, how much did the author intend Renee's (and I guess also Paloma's) political and social cynicism and criticism to be a reflection of more personal discontent?

Finally, want to say I love that this book contains a quote from an Eminem song.

Thanks!
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Re: Discussion of The Elegance of the Hedgehog

Post Number:#15  Postby NancyJillThames » 01 Dec 2011, 21:47

Very nicely put, Scott. I enjoyed the read.
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