Thursday, 25 February 2010

Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery

The Elegance of the Hedgehog is a novel by the French novelist and professor of philosophy Muriel Barbery. The book follows events in the life of a concierge Renée Michel, whose deliberately concealed intelligence is uncovered by a suicidal but intellectually precocious girl named Paloma. Paloma is the daughter of an upper-class family living in the very classy Parisian apartment building where Renée works.

The events and ideas of the novel are presented through the thoughts and reactions, interleaved throughout the novel, of two narrators, Renée and Paloma, residents of an upper-middle class Left Bank apartment building, on one of the most elegant streets in Paris. The luxury apartments are mostly occupied by some of Paris's elite families.

Both concierge and child are very intelligent but do their best to hide the fact from everyone. The widow Renée is a concierge who has supervised the building for 27 years and being self taught in literature and philosophy, she conceals it to keep her job and, she believes, to avoid the condemnation of the building's tenants if they were to discover how cultured she is.

Twelve-year-old Paloma lives on the fifth floor with her parents and sister whom she considers snobs. A precocious girl, she hides her intelligence to avoid exclusion at school. She decides that life is meaningless, and that unless she can find something worth living for, she will commit suicide on her 13th birthday but plans to burn down the apartment before dying. For the time being she keeps a journal about her observations of the outside world, including her perceptions of Renée.

Paloma is the only one of the educated tenants who suspects Renée's is not what she seems. Although they share an interest in philosophy and thoughts about literature, nothing much happens to them until the death of a celebrated restaurant critic who had been living upstairs. A cultured Japanese businessman named Kakuro Ozu, whom Renée and Paloma befriend, then takes over the apartment and comes to share Paloma's fascination with Renée. Featuring a number of other characters, The Elegance of the Hedgehog is full of allusions to literary works, music, films, and paintings. There are reflections on the nature of beauty and art, the meaning of life and death. A very "French" type of novel.
The book was a phenomenon in France. I enjoyed this novel very much.


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Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Roadside Sisters by Wendy Harmer

This latest book by Australian author, Wendy Harmer, is a wonderful heart warming story about women's friendships. It's the story of three friends who have known each other for over twenty years since they performed in a gospel choir of seven women called "Sanctified Soul". They decide to go on a road trip in a mobile home painted with Elvis and the Confederate Flag on the back, from Melbourne to Bryon Bay for one of the lady's daughter's wedding.

During the trip, amongst squabbles, secrets, tears and laughter and incidents along the way, the ladies discover not only the true meaning of having female friends but also reflect on their lives, find love and learn to value what they took for granted in their lives.

It's a lovely light read that's full of warmth with never a dull moment.


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