At first I thought I haven’t read many French books, but when I started going through lists of popular/classic/must-read French books and authors I realized I have indeed read a lot of them. After figuring this out I decided I wanted to read something contemporary, something different; and that is how I ended up reading The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery.
The book is set in an upscale apartment building in Paris. The storyline is set around the lives of the building concierge, Renée and a 12-year-old girl, Paloma, who lives in the building. Both are talented, but they hide their true selves from the world, both afraid the world is not ready for their talents. People in the building think Renée is just a typical concierge with not an enriched personal life, but as a matter of fact she is cultural, and she has quite the knowledge regarding art, philosophy, music and Japanese culture. Paloma has decided to end her life when she turns 13, and until then she’d planned on pretending to be a mediocre student, instead of the outstanding student she actually is.
A Japanese man, Ozu, moves into the building, and he changes the lives of both Renée and Paloma. He befriends them, like no other person in the building has, and finds both ladies’ inner beauty. They form quite the interesting trio, on the outside a dysfunctional one, on the inside a warm trusting circle.
I have to be honest and say that I did not know what to expect from this book. It seemed like people either hated it or loved it. I can easily understand that it divides readers into two groups, but that is something I like. It means it must be a good book, because two people do not read the same book, but a book dividing people such clearly into two groups means that the author has done something right. It’s just not for everyone.
My favourite thing about the book is that the author uses a lot of references to books and authors. It is just something I love. I also liked the unique scene and characters. The dialogue was dragging on a bit in my opinion, and it was a bit too philosophical from time to time for being fiction. Once again I find myself thinking the book is quite good, but nothing special. It is worth a read, but not a re-read, which pretty much defines a book to me.