Upon finishing, there was only one word that stuck in my mind to describe this book: sophisticated. "The Elegance of the Hedgehog" is a perfect fit as a title for the truly magnificent piece of literature that lay within. What's more, I couldn't believe my luck when I came across it at a used bookstore last week for a dirt-cheap price. It seems almost a shame now to sell such a wonder for so cheap.
I was once again reminded of the European mindset and style while reading, and I think that the reason why this wasn't so well received in North America (at least in my opinion), is primarily because of the difference in upbringing in manner and mindset. It sounds condescending but I don't mean it to be so, as I think it's simply a difference that should be acknowledged and accepted. What many reviews complained about in terms of name-dropping and philosophical babble was completely opposite of what I felt of the book. Reading it felt like a conversation I would have at home, or with my Croatian best friend. It made me feel at home and comfortable, and I think it's because I, too, had a Euro-centric upbringing despite living in Canada from a very early age. It's a book that wonderfully reflects the mindset of the country that it was written in, and of the continent in general, I think, and as a result it should be approached with this in mind. Other reviews were personal reflections that ignored this fact and it seems such a thing would be injustice to the book.
As for the story itself, I was pulled in right away and loved both my characters. I saw a lot of myself in Paloma, in her opinion of the world and the people around her. Renee, in turn, made me wonder whether I would be much like her when I grow up. Ozu and the tenants of the building were a wonderful contrast, as well as microcosm, for the discussion on society that this book both metaphorically and directly spoke about, doing so very eloquently, with well-chosen references and examples of famous figures and works of art and literature. It reminded me of my Theory of Knowledge course I had to take last year, which explored the concept of knowledge and how we "know" what we know. It's probably also the exposure to that course that made me more receptive to the book, as opposed to the experience one might have "going in dry" with no prior knowledge or exposure to being in that kind of mindset. I won't point to any plot specific details as I feel that'll spoil the wonderful reading experience, but I will say that I was very satisfied with the way the author chose to direct the story and ultimately end it, very fittingly and without overly dramatizing it.
"The Elegance of the Hedgehog" is a poignant and, really, just a beautiful piece of work that will stay with me forever. It deserves to be revisited again and again, to soak up the atmosphere and the endless stream of thoughts that lay scattered in the pages. Not only is it subtly philosophical but also painfully human in a way that many people don't like to see. It points to all the shortcomings and every day ugliness, mediating it with glimpses into beauty and peace. Reading it in itself was a meditative experience, one I would gladly repeat again and again. One of the most moving reading experiences I have had in a long time, possibly even ever.