The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery
Short Review: A good but flawed book with two narrators of differing skill.
Long Review: This is another book that I enjoy, but which I’m cautious about recommending to others. Where I wallow happily in references to literature and philosophers and film-makers, many other readers may be annoyed by arguably pretentious chatter.
The book centers on Renee Michelle, a concierge in a lavish apartment building in Paris, and Paloma, a brilliant but morbid daughter in of one of the resident families. Renee and Paloma both hide their immense intelligences for their own reasons, and both suffer their own sadnesses. Each of the main characters goes on at length throughout the book about their personal philosophies and studies, which I think may turn off a number of readers. The book is more about thinking and less about doing. It is constructed largely of interior monologues.
Barbara Rosenblat voices Renee Michelle and Cassandra Morris voices Paloma. I thoroughly enjoyed Rosenblat’s reading, but found Morris’s irksome. She has a high and breathy voice, which veers towards shrillness at times. I understand the choice to pick a deeper voice for the adult and a higher voice for the child, but I think Morris’s reading is too extreme. I know a lot of 12 year old girls, and I think most of them have more depth to their voices when they speak naturally. I’m sure the criticism may sound petty, but I found the affect of Morris’s vocal characterization made Paloma less likeable. At times, Morris uses a voice closer to her natural tone. Once we hear that young-sounding timbre with a natural tone under it, the climb upwards in her register makes Paloma sound, well, bratty. Paloma on paper is not bratty–she is wounded and depressed. Paloma as read by Morris seems false and cutesy. I think paper Paloma would want to avoid audiobook Paloma.
Those criticisms aside, I did truly enjoy this book. I think I prefer the book on paper this time around, but only because I love the Paloma and Renee Michelle my own mind voices so much.