In The Elegance of the Hedgehog, Muriel Barbery examines issues of life and death, beauty and art, philosophy and the human condition, and social class through the observations of the two outwardly misanthrope main characters, Madame Michel and Paloma Josse. Superifically, it appears that Madame Michel (the middle-aged, informally educated, gruff, peasant-stock concierge) and Paloma (an acutely intelligent 12-year old daughter of educated upper class parents) share little in common except geography (they live in the same small, but elegant Parisian apartment building) and routine (they perform their obligations and rituals with self-imposed anonymity and contempt). Yet, through their observations and journals, their inner lives are revealed to be strikingly similar: rich, astute, and painfully and accurately observant of the human condition. As the mystery of each character is slowly revealed and related to one another a little ray of hope blossoms in the novel. The blossom is, of course, bittersweet (darn those French!). My opinion? Definitely, read it. It's a solid 4 star novel -- 5 stars for content and style and 3 stars for the rambling philosophy 101.