The main character is Renée, a concierge in an apartment building for the very rich in Paris. She hides her erudition from the philistines who live in the building, and reads philosophy, watches wonderful films, and listens to great music in secret to preserve her comfortable life. She is described by a 10 year old tenant (who also finds everyone else unworthy) as having "the elegance of the hedgehog: on the outside, she's covered in quills, a real fortress, but …on the inside she has the same simple refinement as the hedgehog: a deceptively indolent little creature, fiercely solitary–and terribly elegant."
A new lodger arrives, a Japanese filmmaker, and being a "worthy" sort, befriends them both and the three form a club complete with perfect taste and profound thoughts. The author assumes that we agree that hedgehogs are elegant and convinces us that the three are too.