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The Elegance of the Hedgehog

Barbery, Muriel

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We are in the center of Paris, in an elegant apartment building inhabited by bourgeois families. Renée, the concierge, is witness to the lavish but vacuous lives of her numerous employers. Outwardly she conforms to every stereotype of the concierge: fat, cantankerous, addicted to television. Yet, unbeknownst to her employers, Renée is a cultured autodidact who adores art, philosophy, music, and Japanese culture. With humor and intelligence she scrutinizes the lives of the building's tenants, who for their part are barely aware of her existence. 

Then there's Paloma, a twelve-year-old genius. She is the daughter of a tedious parliamentarian, a talented and startlingly lucid child who has decided to end her life on the sixteenth of June, her thirteenth birthday. Until then she will continue behaving as everyone expects her to behave: a mediocre pre-teen high on adolescent subculture, a good but not an outstanding student, an obedient if obstinate daughter. 

Paloma and Renée hide both their true talents and their finest qualities from a world they suspect cannot or will not appreciate them. They discover their kindred souls when a wealthy Japanese man named Ozu arrives in the building. Only he is able to gain Paloma's trust and to see through Renée's timeworn disguise to the secret that haunts her. This is a moving, funny, triumphant novel that exalts the quiet victories of the inconspicuous among us.

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Renee is the concierge of a grand Parisian apartment building, home to members of the great and the good. Over the years she has maintained her carefully constructed persona as someone reliable but totally uncultivated, in keeping, she feels, with society's expectations of what a concierge should be. But beneath this facade lies the real Renee: passionate about culture and the arts, and more knowledgeable in many ways than her employers with their outwardly successful but emotionally void lives. Down in her lodge, apart from weekly visits by her one friend Manuela, Renee lives resigned to her lonely lot with only her cat for company. Meanwhile, several floors up, twelve-year-old Paloma Josse is determined to avoid the pampered and vacuous future laid out for her, and decides to end her life on her thirteenth birthday. But unknown to them both, the sudden death of one of their privileged neighbours will dramatically alter their lives forever. By turn moving and hilarious, this unusual novel became the top-selling book in France in 2007 with sales of over 900,000 copies to-date.

About the Author:

MURIEL BARBERY is a French novelist and professor of philosophy. Her second novel L'Élégance du hérisson (translated into English as The Elegance of the Hedgehog) topped the French best-seller lists for 30 consecutive weeks and is an international bestseller.

CASSANDRA MORRIS has done voiceover work for Disney, appeared on the Late Show with David Letterman, and can be seen in the future film Double Parked.

Multiple Audie® Award winner Barbara Rosenblat has been named a "Voice of the Twentieth Century" by AudioFile magazine. The New York Times writes,"Watch Ms. Rosenblat work...and you get the sense that even an Oscar winner might not be able to pull this off." She created the role of "Mrs. Medlock" in the Tony® Award-winning Broadway musical The Secret Garden.

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