Thursday, March 18, 2010
The Elegance of the Hedgehog
I just finished this book by Muriel Barbery and wanted to write about it while it was fresh in my mind.
This translated-from-the-French New York Times Best Seller is the story of two females living in the same building in Paris; 12 year old Paloma, a tenant, and 50-something Renee, the concierge of the building. The "women" (for lack of a better term for a 12 year old) are as different on the outside as possible. One is young, cute, rich. The other ugly, fat, matronly, a poor concierge. Despite this, these two are actually more alike than they know. They both try to hide their true selves, their true natures. They are both extremely intelligent, trying to pass as anything but.
Renee, the matronly concierge, is really the one I was drawn to more. She holds a position that others see with contempt. She's lower class, she's invisible. Little do the rich tenants of the building know that this poor dumpy thing is smarter than all of them combined. The odd thing is that Renee perpetuates the stereotype of "Concierge=Stupid." She wants them to think she is dumb. She does not want to be found out. She privately mocks the tenants and their utter stupidity, but, answer me this. What is the point of mocking someone when they don't know they are being mocked? For me, none. Zero, zip. No point. Self-satisfaction was all Renee strives for.
Paloma was 12, and slightly obnoxious in her attitude that "the world is pointless, everyone is stupid, and therefore I am going to kill myself at age 13" She had some amusing thoughts, but, being 12, I never took her seriously enough.
Both women eventually meet due to the intervention of a kind, quiet new owner of the 4th floor flat, Mr. Kakuro Ozu. He quietly sees through both their facades and cares not a bit that one is 12 and one is just a concierge. His wonderful way about him opens both women's hearts to new friendships and platonic love.
I won't say more on the subject. The writing was thought-provoking (or should I say, The translation was thought-provoking? Translated books are hard to really touch, as you saw with my dual reading of "The Shadow of the Wind."), sometimes a little pompous (is it pompous because I may not understand the concepts? Most likely.) and for me, a sweet read.