Monday, February 8, 2010

The Elegance of the Hedgehog (2006)

This book by Muriel Barbery was translated from French. It takes place in an upscale apartment building with a consierge named Renee and a 12-year old girl named Paloma. Both of them prefer to let others think they are dimwitted, uninteresting women and luckily for them, all of the people around them are so involved in themselves that they fail to notice that they are both very literate and fascinating people.

Lisette lived just long enough to give birth to her child. The infant did what was expected of it; it died within three hours. From this tragedy, which to my parents seemed to be part of the natural order of things, so that they were no more - and no less - moved by it than if they had lost a goat, I derived two certainties: the strong live and the weak die, and their pleasure and suffering are proportionate to their position in the hierarchy. Lisette had been beautiful and poor, I was intelligent and indigent, but like her I was doomed to a similar punishment if I ever sought to make good use of my mind in defiance of my class. Finally, as I could not cease to be who I was, either, it became clear to me that my path would be one of secrecy: I had to keep silent about who I was, and never mix with that other world.
From being silent, I then became clandestine.

Paloma studies her classmates to see how they answer their teachers' questions and mimics them so that she avoids detection. At home she avoids conversations and seeks out any quiet place she can find to ponder things.
All of this scheming is foiled by a new occupant of the apartment on the fourth floor, a Japanese gentleman named Ozu who picks up on the subtle clues dropped by both these women and enjoys their intelligence, as well as it deserves to be enjoyed.
A wonderful, delicious read. I will keep this on my shelf because I am sure I will want to read it again.

My rating for this book: +++++

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