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One Book One Lincoln–“The Elegance of the Hedgehog”

Last week, I finished “The Elegance of the Hedgehog” by Muriel Barbery, one of the One Book One Lincoln finalists.

And an interesting novel, it is. The story is told in two voices. One is Renee, the concierge of a Paris apartment building, and the other is Paloma, a twelve-year-old girl living in one of the apartments.

Both of them lead secret lives of intellectual engagement. Paloma’s revelation that she intends to commit suicide lends an air of urgency to the story. Their rich interior lives may not be to everyone’s taste. Renee’s contemplations of writers and artists and Paloma’s thoughts regarding the role of grammar  (a way to attain beauty) may seem a tad too philosophical. I found that when I switched my expectation of the pace of the story to accommodate their ruminations, I enjoyed them.

The rhythm of their building changes when, for the first time in decades, one of the apartments is put up for sale. The new owner, Mr. Ozu, displays a knack for seeing into people, and does so in the most kind and gracious ways. He shows Renee and Paloma possibilities for outright intellectual engagement, combined with friendship. I began to feel a sense of hope for all of them.

But I will not “spoil” the ending by describing it here.

I can see why the selection committee brought this forward. The writing works. The voices are distinct. The characters stand out from one another. We come to respect (most of) those characters. That this is a translation from the original French increases my respect.

Have you read any of the One Book One Lincoln finalists? What have you thought so far? Have you voted for your choice yet? As ever, the best thing about One Book One Lincoln is the swirl of community conversation about books–let’s talk!

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