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Islington Branch Book Club - Past Titles: "The Elegance of the Hedgehog" by Muriel Barbery

Take a look through previous titles we've discussed at our Islington Branch Book Club

"The Elegance of the Hedgehog" by Muriel Barbery

  1. Character Analysis:

    • Explore the characters of Renée Michel and Paloma Josse. What do their respective backgrounds, personalities, and interests reveal about them? How do they evolve throughout the story?
  2. Class and Social Commentary:

    • How does the novel address themes of social class and inequality? Discuss the portrayal of the wealthy residents of the apartment building and their interactions with Renée, Paloma, and others.
  3. Philosophical Themes:

    • Analyze the philosophical musings of Renée and Paloma. How do their reflections on life, beauty, and meaning contribute to the novel's themes? How do their perspectives differ, and what do they ultimately learn from each other?
  4. The Elegance of the Hedgehog:

    • Reflect on the metaphor of the hedgehog as explored in the novel. What does it symbolize, and how does it relate to the characters' search for authenticity and connection in a world that often values superficiality?
  5. Literary and Cultural References:

    • Discuss the significance of the literary and cultural references throughout the novel, including references to literature, art, and philosophy. How do these references enrich the narrative and contribute to the characters' development?
  6. Relationships and Connections:

    • Examine the relationships between Renée, Paloma, and other characters in the apartment building, such as Monsieur Ozu. How do these relationships challenge societal norms and stereotypes? What do they reveal about the characters' capacity for empathy and understanding?
  7. Narrative Structure and Style:

    • Reflect on the novel's narrative structure, which alternates between Renée and Paloma's perspectives. How does this dual narrative enhance the reader's understanding of the characters and their respective journeys?
  8. The Role of Beauty:

    • Consider the theme of beauty as explored in the novel, both in terms of physical appearance and inner beauty. How do Renée and Paloma challenge conventional notions of beauty, and what role does it play in their lives?
  9. Identity and Authenticity:

    • Explore the characters' quests for authenticity and self-discovery. How do Renée and Paloma navigate societal expectations and stereotypes to uncover their true selves? What obstacles do they face in this journey?
  10. The Search for Meaning:

    • Reflect on the characters' search for meaning and purpose in life. How do Renée and Paloma find meaning in their everyday experiences, and what lessons do they learn about the importance of embracing life's complexities?
  11. The Ending:

    • Discuss the novel's ending and the resolutions for Renée and Paloma. Are their journeys towards self-discovery and authenticity satisfying? How does the ending reflect the novel's overarching themes?
  12. Personal Reflection:

    • How did reading "The Elegance of the Hedgehog" affect your perspective on life, beauty, and the pursuit of meaning? What aspects of the novel resonated with you personally, and why?

Muriel Barbery is a French author born on May 28, 1969, in Casablanca, Morocco. She spent her childhood in Morocco before moving to France, where she pursued her education. Barbery holds a PhD in Philosophy and has taught philosophy at various French high schools.

Barbery gained international recognition with the publication of her second novel, "The Elegance of the Hedgehog" ("L'Élégance du hérisson") in 2006. The novel, originally published in French, became a bestseller in France and was later translated into numerous languages, captivating readers around the world with its poignant exploration of life, beauty, and human connection.

Prior to "The Elegance of the Hedgehog," Barbery published her debut novel, "Une gourmandise," in 2000. However, it was her second novel that propelled her to literary fame.

After the success of "The Elegance of the Hedgehog," Barbery continued to write, although she has been relatively private about her personal life and literary endeavors. While she hasn't published as prolifically as some other authors, her work is highly regarded for its philosophical depth, lyrical prose, and insightful exploration of human nature.

Barbery's writing often incorporates philosophical themes and references, reflecting her background in philosophy. Her novels explore complex ideas while also delving into the intricacies of interpersonal relationships and the search for meaning in life.

In addition to her novels, Barbery has also written essays and contributed to various literary publications. While she maintains a relatively low public profile, her literary contributions have left a lasting impact on readers and critics alike, cementing her status as one of France's notable contemporary authors.


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