Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Elegance of the Hedgehog

I discovered this delight in the New Books section and am a little reluctant to give it up. Even though it caused me to lose a full day of my vacation, I truly enjoyed this foray into the Parisian world of luxury apartments, autodidacts and family foibles.

It is author Muriel Barbery's second novel and is translated "from the French" by Alison Anderson. The two main characters, concierge Renee Michel and twelve-year-old tenant Paloma Josse, are both hiding their true talents and finest qualities from the world for fear they will not be believed nor appreciated. In their own words we are introduced to a wide variety of interests and observations including phenomenologic philosophy, the importance of regular doses of silence, vapid dissertations, the underrated colour pink and Japanese culture.

When a wealthy, retired Japanese exporter, Kakuro Ozu buys and renovates one of the large apartments in their block, the quirks and prejudices of the other tenants quickly are revealed. All are abuzz about the new tenant; all hope to be included in his exotic circle.

It is Mr. Ozu who quickly discerns who are his most intelligent, interesting fellow inhabitants--Madame Michel and Paloma. Through kindness and good conversation he strikes up a companiable romance with the concierge. By respecting the profound abilities and difficult family life of Paloma, he gives the gift of justification to a troubled girl.

His greatest gift to both is his gentle hand that facilitates their friendship.

And now it is back on the shelf for all to enjoy.    

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