Tuesday, 27 March 2012


Christina recommended this wonderful book to me: The Elegance of the Hedgehog (L'élégance du Hérisson) by Muriel Barbery, translated by Alison Anderson.  I really liked it! It is about a concierge, Renée, in Paris and how she sees the world, a very ordinary world around her (which is an apartment block in a prosperous part of the city). 

But the book is a whole lot more than that.  A good book is one that has several levels of interest/enjoyment: this one has the relationship of this simple peasant woman with her one close friend, Manuela, and threaded through the story her meeting, and befriending, 2 of the apartment's residents.


Another level operating (besides social commentary on class and observations of human foibles) is the author's philosophical take on what is happening.  Being French both she and her readers would be schooled in philosophy, in this case, aesthetics.

A new resident moves in and she befriends him ... or rather he befriends her ....  He is Japanese and they turn out to have a lot in common with their shared taste in Tolstoy, Proust, Flemish painters and household pets.  On the wall of his apartment is the copy of a the above still life painting by Pieter Claesz.  It becomes part of the beginning of a lovely Platonic friendship.

Renée is an autodidact and reading about her - seeing life through her eyes - was to take a trip back to Greek philosophy and French literature. But at its simplest, and most charming, level it is about life's shared moments over a cup of tea talking about camellias.

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