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A Reading Vocation

"I Must Read, Read, and Read. It is my Vocation." - Thomas Merton

This is where I chronicle my reading life.  I also blog about writing at Lacey's Late-night Editing.


Book 21/100: The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Bradbury

The Elegance of the Hedgehog - Muriel Barbery

I wavered between giving this book two and three stars. The writing is excellent, and although the characters are well-developed, they're still somewhat annoying, particularly the concierge who is smart but pretends to be stupid because she doesn't think the classes should mix. It turns out she has a deeply emotional reason for believing this, but I don't know that many readers would put up with the general plotlessness of the rest of the book long enough to figure that out.

And that's my main issue with the book -- for over half of it, I was left wondering what it was supposed to be about and when something was going to *happen*. I know that literary fiction is all about the characters, but I still would like a LITTLE bit of action outside the characters' own heads. The narrators are the concierge mentioned above and a precocious 12-year-old girl who is planning to commit suicide because she feels adulthood his pointless. The girl was a bit more interesting to me because the narrator who did her voice in the audio was quite endearing, but as someone who has worked with that age group for a long time, there were times when she strained credibility, although her sense of being "different" and "misunderstood" is certainly one that many people remember from that age.

I started to enjoy the book more past the halfway point, but I couldn't say whether that's because it developed a plot, however subtle, at that point, or whether I just stopped looking for one. It has the typical, tragic literary fiction ending, which is why I ultimately decided to give it two rather than three stars. It has some interesting reflections on class and death, but not enough to save it.

I kept wondering how in the world the writer would have pitched this novel to a literary agent: "I have this great novel about a middle-aged woman and a twelve-year-old girl who hardly interact or do anything except think for 350 pages!" But, I'm apparently in the minority, as this book has garnered a lot of fans and critical acclaim. Perhaps my tastes just don't mesh well with French sensibilities.