Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Elegance of the Hedgehog - Muriel Barbery

I picked this book up at Books, Inc. in Palo Alto because I loved the paper it was printed on...and it appeared, in part, to be about a 12 year old girl (I tend to like books with adolescent female narrators). I was pleased to discover that this one was indeed quite a treat. A bestseller in France, The Elegance of the Hedgehog taks place in a wealthy Parisian apartment complex. Renee, the concierge provides her first person account of the tenants who come and go, assuming that she is uneducated or worthy of actual conversation. To the contrary, Renee is a lover of Russian literature (her cat, Leo, is named after Tolstoy) and Japanese films. An autodidact, she relishes philosophy and culture, all while maintaining her subservience around the tenants who barely acknowledge her existence. Between Renee's musings and observations are 12 year old Paloma's diary entries. Paloma, who lives in the building, is an recognized genius parading as a mediocre student who enjoys Manga and has vowed to end her life on her 13th birthday to avoid the hypocrisy that is life. As Renee and Paloma pursue their separate existences, they are suddenly brought together by Mr. Ozu, a new tenant in the building who is able to see past both their facades into the complicated and interesting people they truly are. The Elegance of a Hedgehog is absolutely beautifully written, and while I wanted to keep reading to find out what happened in terms of plot, I found myself reading just a chapter here and there in order to savor the book. The characters are loveable and intelligent - and while I did not particularly enjoy the ending, all in all, I found this a simply charming story (and like many I've read this year, even better by the fireplace with a cup of tea).

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