The Elegance of the Hedgehog
(from L’élégance de l’hérisson de Muriel Barbery)
The Elegance of the Hedgehog is the story of three people whose lives intertwine in an apartment building in Paris. Paloma is a twelve year old girl who plans to commit suicide before she reaches the age of thirteen. Renée is the concierge of the building. She lives two separate lives: in the life she reveals to others, she is a gruff, short-tempered concierge, with few deep thoughts, who spends her free time watching TV; in her second, hidden life, Renée is a self-taught woman of the world, whose tastes run to exotic cuisine, classical music and academic texts. The third character of note is Kakuro Oza, who moves into an apartment after the death of its previous occupant. His arrival serves as a catalyst to bring these three unhappy people together. The result is life changing!
Kakuro and Renée help Paloma realize that suicide is not the answer, that she can’t expect to be happy all the time. Paloma states: “I have finally concluded, maybe that’s what life is about: there’s lots of despair, but also the odd moment of beauty, where time is no longer the same. It’s as if those strains of music created a sort of interlude in time, something suspended, an elsewhere that had come to us, an always within a never.
Yes, that’s it an always within never.
Don’t worry Renée, I won’t commit suicide and I won’t burn a thing. Because from now on, for you, I’ll be searching for those moments of always within never.” (p.325) The conclusion of the novel is surprising and bitter-sweet, but in the end appropriate.
Every camper who arrives at Camp Nominingue is unique: each camper has his own special gifts; each has his own worries and concerns; each has his own particular problems. In many ways, every counsellor at Nominingue is like Kakuro Oza. The counsellor’s role is to reach out and find what is special in each camper, just as Kakuro does with Paloma and Renée. When this happens, as it happens many times each summer, the result truly is life changing!