Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Elegance Of The Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery

In an apartment building for the very rich, things are about to change. Several inhabitants will find their life and viewpoints changed with the death of a long-time tenent, and the appearance of a new one. The concierge, Madame Michel, has held that position for twenty-seven years. Twenty-seven years in which she has lived a lie. Self-educated, she spends her days hiding behind the assumptions about her class and wants the tenents of the building to think her ignorant. She interacts with them as little as possible, and holds no illusions about how they think of her.

Paloma Josse is a twelve-year old schoolgirl, who is dissatisfied with her family, it's pretensions and life in general. She has decided that she will commit suicide on her next birthday, as she sees nothing worth living for. She loves art, literature, and music, and cannot abide the everyday hypocrisy she sees everywhere around her. She too, like Madame Michel, hides her intelligence and personality, letting no one see her true self.

Into these lives, and the lives of the other tenents, comes the change of a new tenent. He is a wealthy Japanese man named Monsieur Ozu. Courted by all the other tenents who wish to impress such a powerful man, he does not choose to spend time with them. Instead, he discerns the true nature of Madame Michel and Paloma, and befriends them both. Soon, Renee Michel is coaxed out of her shell, and visits his apartment and restaurants with him, and they become fast friends. He also interacts with Paloma, who he sees in a grandfatherly way.

The Elegance Of The Hedgehog is about the joys of life that are encountered when least suspected. It challenges the class assumptions that are still rampant in society today, regardless of talk about equality. It skewers false intellectualism and shows the true joy of exploring the meaning of life. It is about finding true friends wherever they are hiding instead of only looking in the expected places. It is a gem of a book, and I'm very glad I read it. This book is recommended for all fiction lovers. It is an inspiring, life-affirming book without taking the easy way and rolling in sentimentality.

1 comment:

Sheila DeChantal said...

Sounds good! Thanks for the review. :)