I have fallen pretty far behind in my book reviews, so I’m going to go back to Christmastime and tell you about the books I have read since then.
The Elegance of the Hedgehog is the most delightful book I have read in years. When I say, “delightful,” I mean enjoyable, funny, light, and intellectually stimulating and thought-provoking all at once. It might be the book that has singly contributed the most words to my vocabulary. (I wish I could give you some examples of words that I learned, but I loved the book so much that I gave my copy away, so I’ll have to wait till I get another one… yes, I will buy another copy, this is a book I have to read again!)
The book is written in the form of diary entries. The unique bit about it is that the entries are written by two individuals, so the chapters alternate between the perspectives of these two characters who, at the beginning of the narrative, don’t know each other. The main thing they have in common is that they are both incredibly intelligent and intellectual people and they both try to hide this from everyone they know, for various reasons. They are also both fascinated by Japanese culture. Other than that, they are completely different. Renee, who is in her 50’s, is a concierge and from the lower class of French society while Paloma is a 12-year-old from the upper elite. When a Japanese gentleman moves into the building, the two eventually meet and discover their shared secret. Mr. Ozu, the Japanese man, becomes the link that connects them and helps each woman discover a whole world of possibilities previously unconsidered in their lives. It is a beautiful story about suffering and loneliness, finding meaning in the small but beautiful moments in life and discovering connectedness, friendship, and love where it is least expected. I fully intend to read it again in the near future, and would love to watch the movies and read the books discussed by these two erudite women, who I feel have become my literary friends. I highly recommend The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery.