Reading The Elegance of a Hedgehog is like holding a sieve under a waterfall of gems, hoping to catch a few–and while a some may rattle around inside your sieve for a moment or two, they inevitably fall through and are seemingly lost. However, when you stop to reflect upon your experience you realize you are still basking in the brilliance of those treasures. As the novel points out, being able to fully appreciate beauty is not something you can sustain for an extended period. You cannot possess a gem of that sort. It’s something you are blessed with for a brief and wonderful moment.
After reading a few of the other reviews on Goodreads, it seems like many quibble with how realistic the scenario and characters are. I can see where they’re coming from, but to me, it was irrelevant whether or not the characters were familiar and whether or not I found the scenario plausible.
This is not a book for someone who is looking for an action-filled plot. In fact, there is very little action in this novel. It’s mostly a novel of the awakening of minds and spirits and the development of connections between isolated people–partly by choice, but also partly through the nature of the human condition. The warmth and charm with which this awakening is depicted makes the novel engaging.
People dislike the philosophizing and find it tiresome and pretentious. I didn’t feel that way at all. To me, the depiction of the characters’ thoughts and reactions felt familiar (perhaps I am tiresome and pretentious). My own mind is constantly questioning my experiences, re-evaluating ideas in light of things I’ve read or watched, doubting, re-affirming, and rebuilding systems of understanding. Maybe the ideas sound pretentious because a few names like Tolstoy and Husserl are thrown out here and there, but the text repeatedly shows how it’s not what’s read that’s important, it’s the importance of having clarity of perception and openness to others.
The novel demonstrates how difficult it is to see and appreciate someone else for who they truly are and not as just some projection of your own. It’s even more difficult to see them and appreciate them as they are–quirks and all. Conversely, it can be terrifying to let anyone else see you–the true yuo–without hedgehog quills, a glass fishbowl, walls and doors, class barriers or other stereotypes serving as armor, protecting your mind and spirit from the challenges, doubts and criticisms of others. While that armor keeps you safe, it also constrains you and prevents you from having meaningful experiences.
To sum up: I adore this novel. In fact, It’s going on my list of favorites, and I haven’t added to that in a long time. It’s thought-provoking, charming and made me laugh one moment and sob the next.