Monday, March 1, 2010

The Elegance of the Hedgehog

Book No: 56
Title: The Elegance of the Hedgehog
Author: Muriel Barbery
Genre: Fiction
Completed: 10/21/09
No. of Pages: N/A
Rating: 5/5*****

Renee Michel is the concierge of a small but elegant Paris apartment building, inhabited by eight families who are part of the wealthy upper echelon of French society. Our concierge strives to blend into the surroundings, to present a bland but courteous demeanor to those who only see her in relation to what she can do for them. So Renee goes through life hiding whom she really is, presenting the demeanor of uneducated woman who could aspire to nothing more than the job she has held for 27 years. However when the door to her loge is closed we learn of another Renee, a self educated woman who glories in Tolstoy, Dutch artists, Mozart and Japanese culture. It is her secret life away from the world, one she works assiduously at keeping hidden.

Paloma Josse is twelve years old and lives with her wealthy family in the building where Renee works. An exceedingly bright child, Paloma too presents a different face to the world, trying hard to hide her intelligence and just fit in. Paloma is frequently at odds with her family all of whom she disdains for their clich├ęd lifestyle. It is for this reason Paloma has decided that on her 13 birthday she will commit suicide. Before she goes through with her plan she begins recording her Profound Thoughts in a journal that we become privy to. Although Renee and Paloma are aware of each other, they have little to do with each other; we just get to see the residents through two sets of eyes.

At first I wasn’t sure about this book, I wasn’t at all sure I liked either of the main characters, whose stories are revealed in alternating chapters. At times I found them a bit pretentious and very self-centered. After a few chapters they began to grow on me, and I enjoyed their wit and humor, as well as their rather astute observations of the people around them. Just as I was settling into a comfort level with these two protagonists, Mr. Kakuro Ozu, a Japanese gentleman, moves into the building. As Mr. Ozu befriends the concierge and the young girl both Renee and Paloma’s lives will become intertwined and changed in ways neither of them could foresee, leading to a series of events that are humorous, touching and sometimes heartbreaking. From the time he enters the story until the last page I could not put this book down. The writing is beautiful and as much as I wanted to finish this book I also didn’t want it to end. I was sorry to turn the last page and end my time with Paloma, Renee and Kakuro. Recommended very highly.

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