Monday, July 06, 2009
Elegance of the Hedgehog
The Elegance of the Hedgehog: Muriel Barbery: If you're looking for a book long on plot but short on words, don't pick up this book. The plot is very very thin, yet the book is extremely wordy. It concerns a 12-year old girl and a concierge in a French apartment building populated by the rich. Neither are quite what they appear to be. Renée, the concierge, was raised in poverty yet discovered the life of the mind and is interested in Culture and the Arts (and, yes, it's Culture with a capital C that interests her, although the fact that she also loves Michael Connelly endeared her to me). This is an interest she tries to keep from the rich people in her apartment building, hiding behind the stereotypes such people would have about a concierge. Paloma, the girl, hides herself from her family, preferring to live within her thoughts, which are so gloomy that she has decided to kill herself on her 13th birthday. The lives of these two change when a new tenant, a rich Japanese businessman, moves into the building. This is also the point (nearly halfway through the book) where I finally became interested in the story -- the convergence of the lives of Renée and Paloma. Kakuro Ozu is a man who can actually "see" these two people -- he understands almost immediately that they aren't who they appear to be, and he is the instrument of change in both of them. Through him, they both learn that other people can be a source of enrichment in your life not just a source of irritation and pain. Until Ozu appeared in the book, I'd considered just quitting reading it because I'd been a little frustrated with just living in the minds of the characters -- I wanted to see what their lives were like not just their thoughts. Although I ultimately enjoyed this book, it isn't one I'll reread.