Elegance of the Hedgehog is translated from French, and apparently immensely popular in France. It is a very odd novel.
I liked it, but it’s awkward. The novel has two narrators — an older woman in her 50s who works as a concierge for a building of private apartments, and a 12 year old girl who lives in one of them — and various chapters, set in a different typeface for each, are told from the point of view of one or the other. It’s…odd, and I can’t say I found the technique to be particularly interesting or necessary. The narrators also spend an awful lot of time in their heads — there is a whole lot of telling-rather-than-showing going on, with big chewy passages wherein one or the other ruminates about art or philosophy or the nature of family or some other such thing.
The beginning is choppy — the concierge’s character is developed in fits and starts, and when first introduced the little girl isn’t terribly likable. In fact I never really developed any sort of affection or attachment to the child — she feels rather more like a plot device than a person, having no convincing emotional development or depth. The concierge, however, who is the actual protagonist of the story, is much more fully fleshed-out, and the middle of the story is spent largely watching her transformation and development.
But then it all goes awry. I won’t post anything that will spoil the story, but suffice it to say that I didn’t care for the ending (and the bit leading up to the ending) at all. It’s heavy handed and feels horribly contrived — the choppy beginning of the story lead into a reasonably well paced and flowing middle that is unfortunately destroyed by a sudden, sledgehammer-like ending. It felt very much like an editor or creative writing class had ravaged some subtler and more ethereal ending that was more in fitting with the narrative, so the author replaced it with something that attempts to be shocking, but is actually just abrupt and hollow.
Recommended? Not really. There are lots and lots of books better than this, but then there are also lots and lots of books that are much worse. A definite middle-of-the-pack showing.