Long Branch Book Review

‘The Elegance of the Hedgehog’


On March 9, the Long Branch Book Club met to discuss “The Elegance of the Hedgehog” by Muriel Barbery. This novel, published originally in French, proved a study in the cultural differences between America and France. The first was the perception of hedgehogs. The book’s narrators, Renee and Paloma, both humans, see the hedgehog animal as an ugly and reclusive creature, nothing like Sonic the Hedgehog of video game fame. All of the book club members agreed they wished they’d known this French perception of the hedgehog before reading the book, because both main characters are like the French view of hedgehogs.

Paloma is a preteen, child to rich folks, but she is isolated from her peers and her family, because she thinks too much and too deeply. Renee is the mid-50s apartment manager where Paloma and her family live. Renee was an impoverished child and distrustful of the rich folk she works for. Both are on a soul searching journey. Renee’s path will teach her to embrace life and overcome her fears. Paloma, who is the epitome of an angsty, poetic teen, will learn what never again means. Still, the club members found some of their daily class struggles foreign to them, for both Paloma and Renee feel trapped by their class stations.

A lengthy discussion followed that had each member reflecting on the divisions within Gonzales’ communities. It came to light that every member present was not born in Gonzales. Each, at one time or more, felt treated as an outsider and looked down upon for the mere fact their family doesn’t go back however many generations in Gonzales. One member did not feel the stigma of outsider as much, because her families, the Pollards and the Askeys, have roots in Gonzales that go back to the early 1800s. Even though later ancestors moved on to other parts, they held their children and grandchild to the Texas way of life. So, in her heart, she feels this is where she’s from. It just took a few generations to get home. Still, all present members were transplants, newcomers, outsiders who choose to live in this wonderful, historic town over anywhere else in the world. And they all agree there is something about Gonzales that captures hearts and minds. So, they found it understandable that some have pride in one’s long family history in here, but without new settlers throughout Gonzales’ 193 years of existence the town would probably not have survived. All of the members agreed, for every single occasional person with an unwelcoming attitude, there are two dozen other Gonzalesians who have embraced and welcomed them to the community. These Gonzalesians, just as in the novel, wherein Renee and Paloma break conventions and find they are kindred souls, have hopefully enjoyed the fresh air, and maybe some hot air, from these new settlers.

While all the Club readers found this a cerebral novel and each struggled with obscure words, they also all valued reading the book, beyond the beautiful prose. One member suggested that this should be required reading for any teen struggling with dire thoughts brought on by isolation. This novel shows the benefits of opening up to others, casting aside cultural perceived social position restrictions and forging one’s own path. Others enjoyed expanding their vocabulary and the introspection the story inspired. All agreed that anyone looking for a through-provoking, soul searching read, would be well served by The Elegance of the Hedgehog.

On Thursday, April 5 at 5:30 p.m. the Long Branch Book Club will meet to discuss Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. “In Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury's classic, frightening vision of the future, firemen don't put out fires--they start them in order to burn books. Bradbury's vividly painted society holds up the appearance of happiness as the highest goal--a place where trivial information is good, and knowledge and ideas are bad. Fire Captain Beatty explains it this way, "Give the people contests they win by remembering the words to more popular songs.... Don't give them slippery stuff like philosophy or sociology to tie things up with. That way lies melancholy." — Amazon.com.

Anyone is welcome to join the book club at the Long Branch Saloon. Snacks will be provided.