So for my selection for book 2 (technically the third book I’ve read for the challenge) I chose to read The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery which has been made into a French film titled Le Hérisson (The Hedgehog). I’d seen the movie for French class before and had found it enjoyable, so I decided to give the novel a go as well. (especially since I usually do try to read a book before watching a movie).
The plot revolves around two protagonists. The first is Renée who is a concierge in a fancy building in Paris. She tries to act the typical part of someone who works in a concierge’s position, being grumpy and unrefined, fat and ugly. However, her secret is that she is actually quite cultured and enjoys reading all manner of books, listens to fine music, and tries to learn as much as she can about Japanese culture. In the meantime there is also Paloma, a confused preteen who feels that life is purposeless and has decided to kill herself and set her apartment on fire. However, these two characters who both usually hide their true selves from others find a friend in the mysterious Mr. Ozu, a Japanese man who moves into one of the empty apartments.
I’m sad to say I actually think I enjoy the film version a lot more than the written one. The book has lovely sections of writing, and I still found the characters interesting, but for me the plot simply dragged far too much in novel form. Barbery had sections where she spent a lot of time on philosophy. And to be honest I’ve never been much of a fan of philosophy in the first place. But if such a subject is going to be applied in a novel, it needs to be in a section that interests me and moves the plot forward, not a lengthy couple of paragraphs just expounding on basic thoughts about life.
I found I actually liked Paloma in the book a bit more than in the movie. She was more interesting to me and less annoying. But I thought it was interesting that the movie focuses more on her suicide plans, while the book seemed to only throw in a rare mention of it, which to me really removed much of the tension of that whole part of the story. Renée on the other hand I think I liked more in the movie, partly because she was the one in the book more likely to drone on about particular books or philosophical ideas for pages and pages.
Anyhow, I think the story idea of this book is interesting, and I do love some of the ideas of people just looking for belonging and feeling like they don’t fit in, or critiquing the shallowness of people like Paloma’s snobby family. But I think there was a lot in here that just needed to be cut or adapted to be more essential to the plot. I recently read The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein and it reminded me a bit of this in terms of having quite a bit of philosophy and protagonists very interested in questioning life. But Stein managed to apply this in a way that made feel interested int he story. He added humor and didn’t use quite the extensive vocabulary that Barbery makes use of, making it a bit easier to read. I guess my point is I think there are ways to do what Barbery did without losing the audience (or at least me).
Well on to my next read. Until next time!
Previous book challenge reads: