36—The Elegance of the Hedgehog By Muriel Barbery (Translated from the French by Alison Anderson)

Renée Michel is extraordinarily intelligent. An autodidact, she taught herself to read at age four. She was an ugly an introverted child and as an adult lives mostly in her head. Renée grew up in a rural part of France, in extreme poverty. She married young and moved to Paris.

For 27 years she she has been the concierge of a Paris apartment building owned by the very wealthy occupants of the apartments. Her husband died ten years ago. Her only friend is a Portuguese woman who cleans two of the eight apartments in the building.

Renée has great disdain for the rich and has successfully hidden her intelligence from the wealthy occupants of the building.

Paloma is an extremely intelligent 12 year old. She lives with her parents and older sister in one of the apartments in Reneé's building. She views her family as very pedestrian and with the same disdain Renée feels about all the rich tenants in the building.

 Paloma feels she has no reason to live and plans to commit suicide on her 13th birthday. In the meantime she keeps two journals; one of profound thoughts, and a second which she calls "Journal of the Movement of the World." In these journals she chronicles her days and observations.

Halfway through the book one of the occupants dies and a wealthy Japanese businessman buys his apartment. The presence of Kakuro Ozu changes the dynamics and brings Renée and Paloma together and changes their lives forever.

The characters think a LOT about the world's great philosophies and to a great extent they are driven by them. So the philosophical discussions they hold within their minds often drag down the pace of the book. The story is an interesting one and if you can muddle through the sometimes obscure and often tedious philosophy the book is a good read.

The philosophical interludes, while often way too long and involved are a necessary to understanding the evolution of the main characters.

© Surveyor of the Passing Scene