The Elegance of the Hedgehog


Style and character development

Barbery developed the character of Renée because she was "inspired by the idea of a reserved, cultured concierge who turned stereotypes on their head and at the same time created a compelling comic effect";[10] for the author, Renée "opened the door on a kind of social criticism".[10] In an interview with Time magazine, Barbery added that she created characters "who love the things [she does], and who allowed [her] to celebrate that through them".[5] Barbery dedicates the book to her husband, Stéphane, a sociologist, with whom she wrote the book.[9]

The novel's two narrators, Renée and Paloma, alternate in each mostly short chapter, although the former dominates throughout.[7] The novel consists of the "diaries" of the protagonists, and the heading styles and fonts change as it develops, signalling the change of the narrators' character.[11]

Most critics considered Barbery's narrative presentation to be essayistic; the individual chapters are more akin to essays than fiction, as The New York Times‍ '​ Caryn James expresses it, "so carefully build[ing] in explanations for the literary and philosophical references that she seems to be assessing what a mass audience needs".[7] The early pages of the novel contain a short critique by Renée on the topic of phenomenology.[7]


Barbery incorporates several themes into the novel. References to philosophy, for instance, abound throughout, getting increasingly dense as the story progresses.[5] Barbery confesses to having "followed a long, boring course of studies in philosophy", and comments that "I expected it to help me understand better that which surrounds me: but it didn't work out that way. Literature has taught me more. I was interested in exploring the bearing philosophy could really have on one's life, and how. I wanted to illuminate this process. That's where the desire to anchor philosophy to a story, a work of fiction, was born: to give it more meaning, make it more physically real, and render it, perhaps, even entertaining."[10]

Themes of class consciousness and conflict are also present in the book. Critics interpreted the stance the novel took against French class-based discrimination and hypocrisy as quite radical,[1] although some French critics found that this made the novel an unsubtle satire of fading social stereotypes.[5] There are also literary allusions in the novel, referencing comic books, movies, music, and paintings.[10]

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