The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery
Paloma lives in one of the apartments in the building. She is twelve years old and decidedly precocious. She has decided to kill herself and burn down the building on her thirteenth birthday to spite her family, and so that she doesn’t end up trapped in the typical life of the bourgeois. There only seems to be one route to go when you’re wealthy and intelligent, and she doesn’t want to follow along. Obviously, these two women need to meet and find out about their similarities, but the novel doesn’t take the expected route.
I found this novel beautiful but frustrating. I loved the fact that the two main characters were thinking about the world they lived in. I loved the fact that they admired beauty, discussed philosophy and had thoughts about the kind of life they were living. They were interesting, unique individuals, but I was frustrated by the way they viewed the world. They obsessed about Beauty and Truth, but made serious efforts to disguise their love. They both hide their true selves from the world, and pretend that their hiding makes them noble, instead of scared. By being unwilling to expose their true selves and thoughts to the world, I found them both nihilistic, which I think was the complete opposite of what the novel intended. They assumed that no one ever could understand them so they gave up on trying to let people in. Paloma, I can almost understand, because she is so young, and teenagers are dramatic and frustrating even at the best of times. I have a harder time with Renée because she is an adult, and I feel that her experience of life should have given her a broader perspective on people.