THE ELEGANCE OF THE HEDGEHOG, Muriel Barbery (from the archives)
This novel, a selection of my reading group, at first put me off. Who wants to read, or in my case listen, to the philosophical ramblings of a 54 year old French concierge and a rich 12 year old suicidal child in a Paris apartment building. But perhaps because I listened to rather than read this book, I soon became engaged with it. On vacation in Paris several years ago, I was also seduced by the setting.
Also we hear the diary of Paloma Josse, a twelve-year-old who also lives in the apartment building. Like Renee, Paloma pretends to be average so as to be ignored--to be left alone. Paloma plans to commit suicide on her thirteenth birthday. She sees no reason to continue life with her rich, uninterested family. If her fate is to become like them, she'd sooner die.
Thus the lives of Renee and Paloma are similar and we wait for them to discover this. We wait for them to find and save each other.
One day, Kakuro Ozu, a Japanese businessman, moves in. Both women find their salvation in his interest in them and eventually each other. They create their own salon.
This book won me over due to the acerbic, uncompromising nature of both women. And yet, beneath their cynicism lie hearts eager to be won. Madame Michel asks herself, "What is the purpose of intelligence if it is not to serve others?" If only we all could embrace this sentiment.
Again, this is not an easy book to sink into. But don't be put off by her philosophizing. She's worth your perseverance.