***Group Read: The Elegance of the Hedgehog

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***Group Read: The Elegance of the Hedgehog

Denna diskussion är för närvarande "vilande"—det sista inlägget är mer än 90 dagar gammalt. Du kan återstarta det genom att svara på inlägget.

Redigerat: jan 30, 2010, 1:28pm


This thread will contain spoilers!

I have never started/facilitated a group read before, but I suggested this based on the number of people on Stasia's thread who mentioned planning to read this. I requested it from the library, so expect to start it soon.

Anyone interested?

jan 28, 2010, 11:20pm

i'm in! even if its just the 2 of us!

jan 28, 2010, 11:24pm

I am not in since I just read it, but will be checking the thread to see what everyone is thinking and feeling about the book. I hope you all enjoy it!

jan 29, 2010, 9:05am

I'll put a link to this thread on the group page.

jan 29, 2010, 3:55pm

Thank you!

jan 29, 2010, 4:17pm

I am planning on reading the book. When exactly are you all starting? There is a backlog reserve list at my library, so I may not be able to get it in time.

jan 29, 2010, 4:33pm

I don't know, when were others thinking of starting? I'm not even sure if the book is among those waiting for me at the library, but, in any event, I'm going to have a pile, so can wait to start for a bit until others are ready.

Andrea? what about you?

jan 29, 2010, 4:45pm

I am attempting this book I'm listening to it on audio but had to stop for awhile.The person who recommended it to me advised me to keep trying, its supposed to get better but so far I'm not liking it much.Will be curious what others think.

jan 29, 2010, 5:19pm

It does seem to be rather polarizing. Please chime in once we get going with what you don't like about it.

jan 29, 2010, 5:23pm

Yes I have a feeling it is one of those love it or hate it books.But those sure make for good conversations!Looking forward to it thanks ejj

jan 30, 2010, 1:09am

I always have a pile to get through, but I'm more than happy to move this one to the front. I just ordered it from Amazon because my library doesn't have it so I'll be able to start whenever after next week.

so glad you started this group, I've been meaning to read this one now for some time.

jan 30, 2010, 2:03am

Well, shall we each start reading whenever we get the book and start the discussion officially in one week? Say, Friday, Feb. 5th? Does that make sense? I'm assuming this won't be a spoiler-free thread--don't see how you can discuss a book in any depth without spoilers.

jan 30, 2010, 9:24am

ejj- Maybe edit your first post and write Spoiler Alert in big bold letters since you can't edit the title then people will know.

jan 30, 2010, 6:43pm

Thanks for letting me know about the thread. I think I can get the book started this coming week, so Feb. 5th sounds like a good time to start the discussion.

jan 30, 2010, 8:53pm

I'll probably chime in after that; I've got a stack of books to read/review between now & the 10th; then I can add Hedgehog to the mix. (Assuming I can find it in the TBR stack...)

feb 2, 2010, 12:48pm

I'll dive in this Friday, too. It's been sitting on my shelf waiting for me. I'm read a couple of YA books until then.

feb 3, 2010, 2:25pm

Aha, here it is! Count me in...

feb 3, 2010, 2:55pm

I'm getting closer on the waiting list at my library. I hope to have the book by Friday or early next week. I'm looking forward to it. Are we reading it all at once or in sections?

feb 3, 2010, 3:28pm

I'm thinking we should each read it at our own pace but discuss it in smaller chunks--maybe several chapters at a time or a quarter of the total at a time or a certain number of pages . . . what do y'all think?

feb 3, 2010, 10:45pm

Found it & started it! Could divide it up both thematically & by length. What about starting with the chunk that goes up to p. 114, the end of "profound thought #7"? And then discussing the characters of Renee and Paloma as they are starting to appear to us? That would give us about 1/3 of the book, and anyone who hasn't read that far could still chime in on the character discussions, I'm sure.

feb 4, 2010, 11:40am

I started this book last night. How delicious are the characters and language! I will only read this in bed with no distractions so I don't miss anything.

feb 4, 2010, 1:01pm

Mamzel, I'm whipping through it as well -- it's delightful!
I did just realize it is broken up into sections, perhaps making for easier discussion...

feb 4, 2010, 8:05pm

I agree on the section discussion. It looks like I will be able to pick up the book and begin tomorrow.

feb 4, 2010, 9:00pm

The section discussion sounds good. I'll also start in a day or two--picked up another book (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) that I'm going to have to finish--it has grabbed me.

feb 4, 2010, 9:22pm

ejj- I loved that book, I couldn't put it down.

feb 4, 2010, 10:09pm

#24/25, snap, that was a brilliant book. The problem was, I had to run out and read the two sequels as quickly as possible; I ended up ordering #3 from the UK last November. And now there are no more... I envy you having the experience of discovering it for the first time.

Raced right through 'Hedgehog' as well; looking forward to the discussion. As long as we don't venture too far into Husserl...

feb 6, 2010, 2:18pm

I finished The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (doesn't appear to be touchstoning) and have just started The Elegance of the Hedgehog. Agree with Mamzel's description of it as "delicious"--I keep seeing bits that I want to quote, as the thoughts are expressed so elegantly.

I think a discussion of the first section could go forward now--but my first section, in the paperback version, appears to go to page 129 and the end of "Profound Thought no. 8"; the next section is "On Grammar."

feb 6, 2010, 8:00pm

Why don't we start with the discussion of the first part then, up to that page?

What struck me at once was the similarity between these two narrators, Renee (sorry, French accent aigu not working...) and Paloma. From very disparate backgrounds, yet both feel the need to conceal their thoughts and feelings and, above all, their intellectual passions. With Renee/Mme Michel, it's because of her social status. I did keep wondering how much of what Paloma was struggling with was because her age made it difficult to assert her own opinion and to cope, as Mme Michel did, with being isolated and not fitting in? Thoughts???

Redigerat: feb 7, 2010, 11:06pm

btw, I seem to have two copies of this (don't ask me, I just don't know...) so if anyone wants one, shoot me a PM with address & I'll get it in the mail on Monday with a bunch of other outbound stuff.

PS: Book has been spoken for....

feb 7, 2010, 4:24pm

I am confused on what catastrohpe Renee thinks will happen if people find out that she is intelligent and reads. Did she explain and I missed it? Maybe I'm over-analyzing (occupational hazard), but I wonder if she actually fears that nothing would change if her employers discovered her "secret".

I'm finding the characters' personalities fascinating. I like Paloma a bit better than I like Renee.

> 28 re: Paloma's age and coping. I did notice that Renee has a friend while Paloma doesn't seem to have any friends. I'm looking forward to seeing how that pans out.

feb 7, 2010, 4:32pm

I'm still very early in the book, but my guess is that, for one thing, Renee may fear losing her job if her employers knew that she is cultured and well-read in ways that many of them only pretend to or aspire to be. The job gives her a place to live and ample time to pursue her interests, so it's worth protecting. There seems to be a pretty well-defined class system in place--so much so that she has to be "persuaded" not to cook the peasant dishes they expect her to.

feb 7, 2010, 4:51pm

(Some of the issues that Renee has are explored in the final part of the book...)

I think that she is afraid of both scorn/ridicule and, on a pragmatic level, her future. Who wants a servant (which is essentially what she is) who is more knowledgeable than they are; who might be judging them and finding them wanting? This really speaks to the continued existence of a class system, at least from an intellectual & monetary standpoint. Renee isn't affluent and isn't formally educated, ergo, this is who she must be: the kind of person who enjoys soap operas, tacky magazines, etc. etc. So she adopts that as a kind of protective camouflage.

Profiler, I actually found myself preferring Renee to Paloma, at least at first. She has forged a life for herself, knows/understands the tradeoffs, etc. I get the feeling sometimes that Paloma is having one of those pre-teen/teen crises where nobody arounds you understands you and she is luxuriating in the sense of being misunderstood and alone, rather than seeking out a world or a life for herself where she might be understood. It's the suicide threat that bothers me the most -- the grandstanding. That doesn't mean it bothers me as a narrative device -- it works to explain her character -- but it's an element of why I find her less appealing a character than Renee.

feb 9, 2010, 6:19pm

I only got the book in the mail today, will post asap!

feb 9, 2010, 6:41pm

Chatterbox - I think you really nailed down the reasons for their "protective camouflage". I could easily understand Renee's reasons. I thought Paloma's were a little more iffy. I never would have imagined that a bright student would study other students to know how to answer questions without revealing her intelligence.

I grew up around adults who would never talk down to a child and always felt comfortable around them. I can remember a discussion I had with a judge on the difference between the probability and the possibility of life on other planets - at the age of 8! (Not that I was one iota as bright as Paloma.)

I think one moral of this story is that you should never judge a book by its cover. Working in a high school library, I have come to know a lot of teens that prefer to hide their light than suffer ridicule from their peers. As I read this book I thought that I might be a little like Mr. Ozu, seeing a side of them that their classmates wouldn't take the time to know and engaging them in discussions about their lives and books. Not being a teacher, I can be a little more personal with them and can interact with individuals since I don't have to work with whole classes.

This book will go back on my shelf as one that I will enjoy again.

feb 9, 2010, 6:50pm

There's a weird kind of intellectual culture in France that we don't have here in the US -- a real sense of reverence for the 'public intellectual' -- which is not the same as a television pundit in North America. (Anyone who has read Le Divorce by Diane Johnson will get a sense of that zeitgeist.) I think that is what both of them are reacting to. It's not an anti-intellectual environment, the way it is in the United States. It's just that the intellectualism is terribly social and rather conformist.

Something that struck me also is that both Mme Michel and Mr Ozu are both real outsiders in France; Paloma is only an outsider in her own eyes. (Moving further along in the book, there is Mme Michel's reaction when she realizes that Paloma isn't quite what she had assumed...) And both of them are middle aged. Have they both had enough time to adjust to that outsider status and make peace with it? Whereas Paloma is just coming to realize what is in store for her. It's like realizing that grownups don't have answers; that there are no answers for many questions.

Interesting comments from your own experience, Mamzel. I know that since I don't have children, I now see teenagers, for instance, as a vast mass, and would have a hard time identifying personal characteristics in any one individual. Like you, I was a precocious kid, and much of the time adults around me would acknowledge that and not talk down to me. Probably the first time I felt out of place was when we moved from London back to Canada when I was 12, and when I met a teacher at 14/15 who didn't appreciate that precocity/curiosity.

feb 9, 2010, 10:17pm

Well, that explains some things then, if there is a proprietary view of intelligence in France. I couldn't imagine wealthy, powerful people in the U. S. caring if their concierge/maid, etc. had a Ph.D or such. Status in the U. S. is not measured on that yardstick. It puts the characters' actions in a different light.

feb 10, 2010, 3:24am

To some extent, being an intellectual in France is equivalent to being a multi-millionaire hedge fund manager in North America. It's all a matter of who sneers at whom. No one here looks down on wealth; in France, a certain type of intellectual (think Sartre and de Beauvoir) still has a grip on the imagination of a certain class. Wealth? Sure, but only when accompanied by intellect. Money alone doesn't cut it.

feb 12, 2010, 12:10pm

Is there another section we are preparing to discuss? I actually just finished the book. I'm looking forward to reading others' thoughts.

feb 12, 2010, 12:23pm

I have no idea what kind of pace to suggest, but I'm almost through the first section and need to pause to read my book club book by Tuesday. So, maybe we can discuss the next section ("On Grammar"; pp. 133-235 in my paperback edition) starting the middle of next week?

Or you can all go ahead and I'll avoid reading the thread until I catch up ;-)

feb 12, 2010, 12:53pm

Thought people would be amused by this review of the book from Amazon's French site. It rather reflects some of the attitude that Barbery discusses re French society and intellectuals. The critical reviews fall into two camps: those who say the book is essentially chick lit and don't understand what the fuss is about, and a group who have similar objections to those raised below, although not laid out in as much detail. Sorry, my translation is a bit rough & ready:

"This book is certainly very well written, often funny and enjoyable to read. But its merits are more questionable. Forget about the small flaws that follow from Barbery's previous occupation, as a professor of philosophy. But does the author truly believe that the vast majority of the book's readers, in France and abroad, are able to criticize, in the Kantian sense of the word, her opinion (or that of the 'hedgehog') on Edmund Husserl and his theory of phenomenology? Isn't it rather a device to win the reader's support, by giving him the sense that he is an intellectual able to make this kind of intellectual judgment?
Muriel Barbery's world is really quite Manichean, made up of an elite group of the poor and of foreigners lost in France on the one hand, and on the other hand wealthy and white individuals who are, necessarily, stupid and evil. Only two individuals rise above this classificiation: Paloma, a small rich child who is saved from the fate of her class because she has the intellect to perceive the trap into which she has fallen; her salvation will be her disappearance through suicide; and Mr. Ozu, who, being Japanese, is necessarily refined and civilized. ...
(The reviewer goes off on a long riff about the reality of modern Japan, from pachinko parlors to Korean 'comfort women' during WW2)
The mocking rejection of this "Franctitude" by Ms. Barbery reminds one of criticisms made nearly a century ago by Louis-Ferdinand Celine, in a 1935 work that Simone de Beavoir saw as containing "a certain hateful contempt for ordinary people that is a pre-fascist attitude." It's obvious that in this book, the phrase "little people" has been replaced by "rich bourgeois" as a focus for this same kind of contempt. "
(the reviewer draws an analogy between the poodles and the humans -- i.e. the families in the apartment building are like the poodles in terms of intellect, etc., in Barbery's view, acc. to the reviewer.

feb 12, 2010, 1:10pm

> 39 Discussing "On Grammar" next week sounds good to me.

> 40 I don't know philosophy so I used Renee's remarks to learn about Renee, rather than ponder her views on Husserl. I found the character development the most interesting aspect of the book. Even though I didn't always like the characters, I was always fascinated by them.

BTW, I actually have a poodle, an Apricot Standard Poodle.

feb 12, 2010, 2:56pm

Aren't poodles actually supposed to be among the smarter dogs?

feb 12, 2010, 4:20pm

Maybe French intellectuals perceive them to be the canine equivalent of blondes?

feb 13, 2010, 11:28am

#40 I have to say that, while I enjoyed the book very much, I can see some of the points of this review -although have a slight suspicion that Barbery might be doing this deliberately.

In particular the point about Japanese culture - both Renee and Paloma see Japanese culture as in some way liberating, despite the fact that, in fact, it has its own rules. What is suffocating to them is not specifically French, but is the idea of having roles to which they are supposed to conform due to their social position. Being foreign inherently frees you from that, and that's why Ozu is in the position that he's in.

I did, in all honesty, find Renee's grasp of philosophy rather unbelievable. The reason for this is that I'm not particularly convinced that one can learn philosophy from books - one can learn what philosophers think but that's a rather different thing. I agree that we use that to learn about Renee, and not about Husserl. There's a part of me which feels resistance to the idea of the 'autodidact', because I work in higher education and would like to think that we're not entirely useless. But maybe that's just me feeling defensive!

I also found Renee annoying in that I think she did write off everyone in the block, just as they wrote her off. She was still stuck within the notion of 'class' roles, but felt she was somehow an exception.
By the end, I understood why, and that's why the end was so powerful for me. Paloma was the same, but the whole point of being an adolescent is feeling misunderstood, so I could empathise a lot more.


feb 16, 2010, 5:06pm

I'm enjoying reading this thread -- not quite finished with the first part, having just started this week, but I wanted to weigh in...

(Hopefully this hasn't already come up and I missed it.) Renee strikes me as representative of a modern "everyman" -- gender notwithstanding -- in the sense that she really exhibits what most of us feel but won't admit -- that conviction that we are smarter than others believe us to be, that we are unique among the multitudes, that we are misunderstood and that misunderstanding allows us to perpetuate a kind of contentment within our limited role. This mode of thinking begins in adolescence (which Paloma represents) but part of the modern condition, I think, is that we never really outgrow it. I can see how Renee's characterization would be annoying for some, though.

While I'm not sure how I feel about her yet, I am curious to see if that characterization stays the same as the novel unfolds. Some of you may know already. I'll be back! :)

feb 16, 2010, 5:29pm

#44 -- very interesting point re learning about philosophy vs learning philosophy. I do believe that it's possible for autodidacts to exist, or rather, very talented and exception individuals whose brains are like sponges and possess tremendous analytical abilities. How else to explain someone like Mozart, composing by the age of 5, or John Stuart Mill, who was being taught (and learning) Greek at the age of 3? That's not the normal child... Both of them were born to parents who recognized the raw talent and fostered it in a rather hothouse environment. Maybe Barbery is suggesting that there is all this raw material all over the place, which we don't recognize or deliberately overlook due to our preconceptions?

I see higher education as kind of like talk therapy. It helps you to define the questions and understand how to frame or think about responses. But if the raw material isn't there, it won't matter. Similarly, I think it's possible for an autodidact to thrive -- and thrive outside of academia, which has its own limitations. Look at the world of economics today, where those whose independent work predicted many of the economic events that occurred were shut out as non-conformists by what one economist (son of John Kenneth Galbraith) calls "a kind of Politburo for correct economic thinking", even as the conformists squabbled between themselves, Keynsians on one side and adherents of Milton Friedman on the other. Sorry, a bit of a digression...

The point re Renee and her reverse intellectual snobbery is well taken. She sneers in just the same way that she is sneered at, only covertly.

#45, It's true that we never see ourselves reliably through our own eyes -- the first person singular by definition signals an unreliable narrator, and perhaps it's significant that both Renee and Paloma speak in the first person? Neither of them have a sense of perspective on their own dilemmas and situations, Renee because of her isolation and Paloma because of her youth.

feb 16, 2010, 9:47pm

I'm still only about a third of the way through, having had to stop to do the book club book. But I'm going to have to get going on this because it's due back at the library and can't be renewed.

I have to say that one of my best friends is an autodidact--she had some college but didn't graduate; on the other hand, she has a deep self-taught knowledge about American history, plants/botany, and baseball, and she works as a lexicographer. On the other hand, I had the benefit of higher education and I do think that more people are like me and learn best in a structured, directed environment, and very few are like my friend or Renee.

So far I'm a bit impatient with Paloma, even though I think I was a lot like her as a kid. But I'm about the same age now as Renee and maybe it's just identification with her, but I find I'm much more understanding of her. Both of them amuse me, though.

>45 beserene: Interesting point about most people feeling the same "secret superiority" that Renee does. The irony, of course, is that even people who are not at all blessed intellectually, as far as one can judge from outside observation, feel the same way!

feb 16, 2010, 10:19pm

Moving ahead to the next part of the book, in the context of this particular element of the discussion, maybe the second half of the book is about Ozu at once validating those inner convictions on the part of both Renee and Paloma, and softening their harder edges? I'm thinking here of the relationship that evolves between Renee and Ozu, and Ozu's final conversation with Paloma.

feb 18, 2010, 3:34pm

Sorry, I caught Olympic-itis and have been obsessed the past week. Just now catching up (sort of) on threads.

42 & 43 Our poodle is not smart. It's funny you said that about blondes. I started calling our poodle a "dumb blonde" and my daughter said "no, she's a dumb Apricot", so that's what we call her!! She is not crabby, though, she is very sweet and wouldn't hurt a fly.

I find it interesting that the other tenants in the building are so eager to socialize with Ozu, if he is an outsider. Does anyone have any insight on why the social snobs of the building wouldn't apply their standards to Ozu?

P.S. I am gaining so much more understanding of this book from all the interesting and insightful comments on this thread. What a benefit you all are!

feb 18, 2010, 3:48pm

#48 I agree. Ozu, potentially, gives Renee and Paloma the opportunity to talk about what they are thinking. They both bottle things up emotionally, but they also bottle up ideas, which could be refined and developed through expression and discussion. I rather identify with this bit - I have a tendency to think a lot about 'big' things and to talk about frivolities and I think it limits me. As far as Renee is concerned, maybe Ozu was her opportunity for the kind of 'talk therapy' you mention (and I agree with you on that). And was also her opportunity, and that of Paloma, to develop their understanding of themselves in relation to others.

#49 I think being a foreigner often exempts you from social snobbery - foreigners can't be located within a class system of any sort. I also think they want to socialise with him because they are curious about him. It remains to be seen what would happen once their curiosity is sated.

feb 18, 2010, 3:58pm

I figured it was the curiosity about someone new and different--Renee mentions that most of the apartments in the building have passed down from one family member to another, so there hasn't been anyone really new and unknown for ages. Plus, of course, he's obviously well off, not only because he bought the apartment, but because he immediately remodeled it completely and has at least one person who seems to work for him full-time (I'm just at the point where he's moved in, so I don't know more about him than that).

feb 19, 2010, 10:30pm

#49/51, yes, I think it's in large part curiosity, but also perhaps an assumption about the kind of person that Ozu must be. Iin the eyes of Renee and Paloma just confirms all their worst suspicions about how shallow these people are.) I think there's an automatic belief that because he can afford to live there, because he is obviously rich and obviously cultured, he is someone to be sucked up to. We've all probably seen this in our lives somehow/somewhere -- someone meets someone else, discovers that they worked with or are childhood friends with some celebrity, or we've just seen their picture, or heard they have written and published a novel, and bang, conclusions are drawn about the kind of person they are. We do that every day with everyone that we meet, but when someone very new comes into our world and is dramatically different, the reaction tends to be more extreme. I think Barbery could have written this easily as going either way -- that Ozu is lionized or that he is despised. And of course, neither matter to him in the slightest...

#50, I also tend not to discuss some of the stuff I'm thinking about. When I find someone I can talk "seriously" with, it's a joy. A lot of 'friends' have told me I'm just too intense about esoteric or unusual stuff. I really don't care who's on American Idol or what's happening on Lost, but I'm reading a weight tome about Enlightenment thought and heading off to a flamenco performance instead. I'm just doing what I find interesting; they are the ones to draw conclusions about it. So, often, much of what I find intriguing or interesting never comes up in conversation. Which I suspect is why I empathize with Renee. Her situation is an extreme one, as is her response to it, but we all stereotype each other constantly, and have a kind of 'template' for behavior and attitudes that we find comfortable.

feb 21, 2010, 2:43pm

Finished the book last night. I don't want to say anything too spoilerish for those who are still reading, but wow. There were moments in this novel that I became a bit impatient with the philosophical ponderings, but ultimately it's a book about the relationships between people. I think this is a book I'll be thinking about long after I've returned it to the library.

I'd almost like to recommend it to my book club but don't think I have quite enough faith in them to do so. Sad, really.

feb 22, 2010, 6:24pm

I also just finished and I second the wow. My book now looks like a hedgehog, with all the scraps designating passages that I liked and wish to return to. I did struggle at times with the characters, but it all comes together in the end. No spoilers, so I'll hush now.

feb 22, 2010, 7:44pm

We've got about 5 more people to hear back from in terms of finishing it (I've finished it, also). Why don't we set next Monday, the 1st, as a date to talk about the rest of the book, that will include spoilers? Because I think the ending is dramatic enough to duck around it in an effort to avoid them would do the book a disservice... Thoughts?

feb 23, 2010, 2:34am

That sounds quite reasonable to me; I agree that we have to talk about the ending to make sense of the whole.

feb 23, 2010, 5:23pm

I concur.

feb 23, 2010, 6:56pm

I am brand new to this thread. I just joined the 75 book group today. Had I known about all of it before, I would have participated more in this discussion. I actually just finished reading this book a few days ago, so I would love to join the discussion when everyone is finished. I loved this book, and the ending was not what I expected.

feb 23, 2010, 9:05pm

Welcome, Stellafish! By all means, chime in. The assumption so far is that we can safely discuss the first several sections of the book, as most everyone has reached that far. We'll pick up with discussion of the ending (with a *spoilers* warning!) as of March 1st.

Redigerat: feb 23, 2010, 9:12pm

Det här meddelandet har tagits bort av dess författare.

feb 24, 2010, 6:10pm

Welcome, Stella!

I'm ready for March 1st!

feb 24, 2010, 6:35pm

March 1st it is, then -- and welcome, Stellafish... Feel free to chime in with your thoughts on the first half or so of the book, or any of the issues we've been chatting about above; then we'll pick up with the final segments on Monday!

mar 2, 2010, 5:30pm

Anyone else done? I'm curious to hear how people liked the ending. I was rather disappointed.

mar 2, 2010, 8:41pm

What disappointed you, profiler? Did you feel that taking Renee off the scene so definitively was a cop-out? In a way, I felt she had written herself into a corner, but at the same time the ending made sense -- what else could have shocked Paloma into a sense of what was real, vs what was going on in her head? I did think Renee's thoughts to herself as she lay on the street didn't fit. It wasn't convincing...

mar 3, 2010, 11:37am

> 64 I have now read four books which ended (one was near the end) with the sudden unrelated-to-the-rest-of-the-plot death of a main character. When I read this one I thought, "not another one". The effect on Paloma was a bright spot, for sure. I'm just kind of tired of that ending.

Redigerat: mar 3, 2010, 11:46am

I keep wondering what might have happened if she had not died. Would she and Ozu have had a romance? An affair? A marriage? Would the other residents of the building have keeled over in shock? Could they have lived there as a couple? Would the story have seemed like a complete fairy tale if it had ended that way?

ETA: auxiliary verbs.

mar 3, 2010, 12:40pm

> 66 I was getting excited about that too. It seemed like the story was just getting started. It would have been interesting to see what sort of resistance/tension would have been created by the other tenants if Renee and Ozu's friendship (or romance, possibly) had become more well-known.

mar 3, 2010, 12:43pm

I think that's what I mean by her having written herself into a corner. For this not to be a fairy tale and turn into a squishy cream puff of a book, Renee had to vanish somehow, to remain her prickly hedgehogy self. So she needed the deus ex machina of a death.

My frustration was with the character of Ozu, this fascinating and apparently perfect outsider. He has a dramatic impact on Renee and Paloma, hedgehog and embryonic/trainee hedgehog, and yet we see no change in him. Sure, he is drawn to these two people, but it's not as if we see him resisting human relationships in the way they did. He's unique and distinctive, but not very three-dimensional. He's an "exotique", and at times I felt he was more of a device than a real person. He is there to shake everyone and everything up.

mar 3, 2010, 12:55pm

I don't think Renee and Ozu would have had to live happily ever after, if Renee had lived. I can see the "hedgehoginess" being a complicating factor. Maybe I'm cynical or evil, but I would have liked to see how that played out. ;)

Good point about Ozu seeming like a device. I can certainly see that. He wasn't very deeply drawn, come to think of it.

mar 6, 2010, 12:35am

In another thread, someone mentioned getting this book thinking it was a young adult book. Had to laugh.

mar 9, 2010, 6:33pm


Did anyone think that the hedghoginess was softening a bit in Renee? Would that have continued, or would it have bumped into decades of conditioning and caused conflict between her and Ozu?

And did you find the explanation for this -- her sister's experience -- convincing? To me, that was the weakest part of the novel. I can see how it would be traumatic, but not necessarily lead to this reaction. Her sister's experience was in an utterly different realm of human existence, and I struggle to see the link. Barbery is a good enough writer that ultimately it didn't affect my enjoyment of the book, but....