** I’ve started a new Facebook-based book club! Learn more HERE.**
This month’s book is: The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery
Summary (by BN.com):
Renée Michel is the 54-year-old concierge of a luxury Paris apartment building. Her exterior (“short, ugly, and plump”) and demeanor (“poor, discreet, and insignificant”) belie her keen, questing mind and profound erudition. Paloma Josse is a 12-year-old genius who behaves as everyone expects her to behave: a mediocre pre-teen high on adolescent subculture, a good but not outstanding student, an obedient if obstinate daughter. She plans to kill herself on the sixteenth of June, her thirteenth birthday.
Both Renée and Paloma hide their true talents and finest qualities from the bourgeois families around them, until a wealthy Japanese gentleman named Ozu moves into building. Only he sees through them, perceiving the secret that haunts Renée, winning Paloma’s trust, and helping the two discover their kindred souls.
Before you Read:
1. What are your expectations for this book?
2. Tell us what you know about hedgehogs. How might a hedgehog be elegant?
3. Explain the meaning of the quote, “Whoever sows desire harvests oppression.”
4. What are your initial thoughts on Renee? Do you think Renee fits the stereotype of the typical French concierge?
5. What are your initial thoughts on Paloma? How do Paloma and Renee differ?
6. Do you find Paloma’s reasons for wanting to commit suicide justifiable?
7. How do feel about Renee’s attitude toward others? (Think about her relationship with Manuela, and her encounter with Pierre Arthens.)
8. Would you say Renee and Paloma are both hedgehogs? What might they each be hiding from or frightened about behind their protective cover?
9. Do you understand Paloma’s view of movement? Why does she use movement as a motivation for living?
10. Why does Renee find the need to hide her love of reading?
11. Do you agree that cats are a modern totem? Do you consider them mere decorations? If not, what would you say in regards to Paloma’s thoughts on cats?
12. Are you an autodidact? Does being an autodidact help or hinder people in life? Why do you think this way?
13. Can you explain the differences between Kantian idealism and the idealism of Edmund Husserl? Which do you agree with more, if either?
14. Why does Renee shudder at the quote from Anna Karenina? How did Mr. Ozu know that she would understand the reference?
15. Let’s restate a question from the book: Do you know what an involuntary act signifies? Give your own explanation.
16. Why does Mr. Ozu confide his suspicions about Renee with Paloma?
17. In Paloma’s Profound Thought No. 9, she compares Renee to an elegant hedgehog. Do you agree with this?
18. Do you agree with Paloma’s view points on grammar or do you agree with Madame Fine that the point of grammar is to “make us speak and write well?”
19. Do you think non-sliding doors are an intrusion?
20. Why does the fact that Mr. Ozu has only one of every thing in his apartment make a “pleasant impression” on Renee? Do you buy things in pairs of 2 or as singles, and does this matter?
21. Do you think Renee’s response to Mr. Ozu’s gift, “Thank you, you shouldn’t have,” was appropriate? If not, what should she have said instead?
22. Would you be as friendly to the concierge as Mr. Ozu is, or would you ignore her like the rest of the people living in the building do?
23. Do you agree that the true movement of the world might be a voice raised in song? Why or why not?
24. What similarities do you notice between Renee’s best friend and Paloma’s best friend?
25. How is Summer rain portrayed in this section?
26. Do you agree with Paloma that we are just bees “destined to accomplish our task and then die?”
27. What is it about Renee’s loge that makes it the ideal hiding place?
28. Why does Renee not accept Mr. Ozu’s invitation to dinner? Do you find Renee’s reasons for turning down his invitation justifiable?
29. While dining with Mr. Ozu, what causes Renee to weep and is this a good or bad thing for her?
30. What does the symbol of a camellia signify in this story? Is the significance different for other characters?
31. Does Renee’s death come as a shock? Why do you think she dies in this story and not Paloma?
32. Why do you think the title of this section is labeled “Paloma” when the main event is Renee’s death?
33. Is the fact that Renee was “prepared to love” at the time of her death important to her death or to her life, why or why not?
34. Consider the last thoughts and images Renee shares with us. Is the order of the people she thinks about significant? Do you feel she thought about the right people in the order they were presented?
35. What changes in Paloma? Does she have a good enough reason to live now?
36. Tell us what happens to the characters in the story after the shock of Renee’s death wears off. What happens to Paloma? Mr. Ozu? Manuela?
37. What beauty do you find in the world?
38. Did you watch the movie that goes along with this book? If so, what similarities or differences did you notice? Which did you like better?
39. Would you recommend this book to a friend? Why or why not?