Monday, April 21, 2014

The Elegance of the Hedgehog

By Muriel Barbery
Rated: PG-13

What is a humble concierge at No. 7, Rue de Grenelle, Paris (a very exclusive address, you know) to do when she knows she doesn't fit the preconceived image of a concierge? Why, pretend, of course. Pretend to be slow, stupid, addicted to bad television, and unable to comprehend even a shallow thought, much less a deep one. Renee lives for her solitary passions: philosophy, great literature, any book that expands her knowledge, great art and great music. But she indulges these passions oh so carefully, so no one suspects she is anything more than the surface image she presents. Paloma, the hyper-intelligent 12-year-old daughter of a wealthy tenant, hides behind a wall of silence. No one knows of her troubles, her dreams, her plans, or the extent of her perspicacity. Lonely and alone, these two hide themselves from the world around them, not realizing how life could change with a little openness and camaraderie. But sometimes, thankfully, there are people who see us even when we're hiding and such was Monsieur Ozu. What a difference one person can make. And how perspectives can shift when we know there is one person who truly sees and understands beauty.

I will be honest and say that at first I did not like this book. It was depressing and seemed to try just a bit too hard to be intellectual. But I had a high recommendation from a friend so I kept reading. To my surprise, I found that each time, I was picking up the book a bit more eagerly. Then I found myself nodding along with some of the insights from a character's inner monologue. And then I reached the turning of the tide, the point of no return that comes in a good book where no matter how late it is, you just have to finish it. I loved it. I have rated it PG-13 mostly because Paloma is obsessed with planning her own suicide and I felt that pushed the rating up higher than it otherwise would have had. There is the occasional use of a curse word as well.