Wednesday, December 30, 2009
"The Elegance of the Hedgehog", by Muriel Barbery
This is one clever novel written in a simple formula that draws the reader gradually into a philosophical fable.
Narrated alternately at each chapter, the story is dominated by Renée Michel, an unassuming concierge in her 50s who happens to be an autodidact who believes life is less complicated and more enjoyable by not displaying outwardly the depth of her knowledge. Paloma Josse is a precocious 12 year old daughter of a diplomat and socialite who lives in the same ritzy building as Renée, she believes adulthood is meaningless and plans to commit suicide on her 13th birthday and burn down the building she lives in.
The author tells Renée story in the first person and Paloma's is quoted from a dairy type notebook labelled "Profound Thoughts". They both share a friend in Monsieur Ozu, a mysterious, wealthy Japanese man who also resides in the building.
This story creeps up subtlety and takes hold of your attention without notice. It may seem slow at first but the author has written an exceptional tale about how one is perceived based on class, beauty and their position in life.
The described adventures of the characters show that even people from different backgrounds are not all that different and have a lot in common.
Although rich in texture and philosophy I found the story quite entertaining. It is a character study of three individuals and their inner thoughts towards life in general. This novel is not all substance it has a humorous side to it, one that made me smile and laugh at times.
"The Elegance of the Hedgehog" is a poignant and delightful read.