The 27th book I read for the book challenge was The Elegance Of The Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery.
This book is a dialogue between the thoughts of Renée Michel, the concierge of a posh building in Paris, and the journals of Paloma Josse, the twelve-year-old daughter of one of the families who live in the building. Madame Michel is a different sort of concierge. She is highly self-educated. She explores the philosophy of being; the philosophy of things; Marxism; Kant; Freud; literature’ particularly Tolstoy (she named her cat Leo). She looks with distain and loathing on her rich tenants, who look with distain and loathing upon her and treat her as a nonentity. She has been a concierge for over thirty years and widowed; her husband has died of cancer. They had no children. She reminisces about her sister who went to live in Paris from the countryside and who became pregnant by the rich man there; she died in childbirth. She tells this to Paloma as a cautionary tale, why she fears associating with Kakuro Ozu, the one tenant who is kind to her and who wants her company, who truly understands her.
Monsieur Ozu invites Madame Michel to his apartment for dinner. They talk about art, about literature, about music, about films. They agree to get together to view a film the next Sunday with pastries that Madame Michel will bring as well as the film that she has. Manuela, Madame Michel’s friend who is the housekeeper for Monsieur Ozo and some other tenants, will make the pastries. Madame Michel and Monsieur Ozo enjoy the film and pastries and discuss the film and other things. They are becoming fast friends, but Madame Michel is uneasy about their friendship.
Paloma hates her life, her family. She hates her sister Columbe, her boyfriend Trièbre, her parents. She has decided to commit suicide when she turns thirteen and set fire to their apartment and destroy it. She thinks she has lived enough. She has a journal of Profound Thoughts and a Journal of the Movements of the World. But she is rethinking the setting fire to the apartment because she really likes Monsieur Ozu who has moved into the fourth floor right below her family’s fifth floor apartment and she doesn’t want to damage his apartment.
The story describes the odd friendship that develops between Paloma, Madame Michel, and Monsieur Ozu and how that friendship develops and finally is doomed but how Paloma learns a valuable lessons from their friendship. This is a difficult book to read, filled with much philosophy. But I enjoyed it. It is ultimately about relationships and the ability to step outside oneself and take a risk. It is a beautiful, well written book.