Finally finished and it was worth it - a wonderful ending (but I won't tell you about that). An interesting book. I can't stop thinking about Renee and Paloma and the ending. That is always a good thing. You don't want to spend hours reading 300 + pages to forget it as soon as you finish the last page.
You can definitely tell Muriel Barbery is an academic with plenty of philosophising to pack into her story. At times this becomes a little a heavy but overall lifts The Elegance of the Hedgehog from being just a story into a story that has something important to say. (Is it old fashioned to like this sort of story?)
What makes it a good read is that while it does concern itself with life and death and love and beauty and art etc (all the BIG things) its main focus is on class and intelligence. Barbery writes an allegory of equality and acceptance during a time of global inequity. I found it refreshing to read something that wanted you to make the connections and explicitly commented on the condition of the world. Not very post modern, I know, maybe there is still room for the grand narrative afterall.
BUT it is allegorical. A lot of readers, I suspect, will not like the soap box she uses as her writing desk. But I did. Mainly because the characters were well drawn and she created a wonderful microcosm within the French apartment block where they lived.
I would rate The Elegance of the Hedgehog - 4/5. definitely worth a read.