We are in the center of Paris, in an elegant apartment building inhabited by bourgeois families. Renée, the concierge, is witness to the lavish but vacuous lives of her numerous employers. Outwardly she conforms to every stereotype of the concierge: fat, cantankerous, addicted to television. Yet, unbeknownst to her employers, Renée is a cultured autodidact who adores art, philosophy, music, and Japanese culture. With humor and intelligence she scrutinizes the lives of the building's tenants, who for their part are barely aware of her existence.
Then there's Paloma, a twelve-year-old genius. She is the daughter of a tedious parliamentarian, a talented and startlingly lucid child who has decided to end her life on the sixteenth of June, her thirteenth birthday. Until then she will continue behaving as everyone expects her to behave: a mediocre pre-teen high on adolescent subculture, a good but not an outstanding student, an obedient if obstinate daughter.
Paloma and Renée hide both their true talents and their finest qualities from a world they suspect cannot or will not appreciate them. They discover their kindred souls when a wealthy Japanese man named Ozu arrives in the building. Only he is able to gain Paloma's trust and to see through Renée's timeworn disguise to the secret that haunts her.
Pages: 325 (paperback)
Publisher: Published September 2nd 2008 by Europa Editions
Rating: 8 out of 10
Source: Borrowed from a friend
Date Completed: April 21, 2013
While I cannot pinpoint where, I had heard enough good things about The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery, Alison Anderson that I kept nominating the story for book club. In August, one of the other members was kind enough to lend me her copy. It took me nine months to finish the book!
The characters were interesting and funny, but the pace of the book was slow for me. Things began to pick up about half way through. I kept going because of the promise that when you finished, you would find that it was a worthwhile journey. Sure enough, with the appearance of Ozu, I could not put the book down. I loved the exploration of class and the search for meaning. I appreciated the observations and sass of Paloma. I liked her endpoint the best. At the risk of sounding cliche, her friendships with Renee and Ozu really did make her a better person. My favorite character was Renee. Her passion for the arts, particularly literature and film, combined with the keen observations she makes about the tenants made me smile.
As predicted, the last quarter of the book was amazing. After I finished the last page, I felt so sad that it was over. I was surprised by that feeling given that only a few weeks earlier, I wanted to be finished.