10 January 2009

Elegant rodent?

I was closing down my computer on this Saturday evening, when I noticed that Dan Conrad had written on his Facebook page almost two weeks ago, that he was "undecorating the Christmas tree having brought in the New Year by finishing the best book I read in 2008: Elegance of the Hedgehog."

He didn't say why it was the best book of 2008, but maybe he will.

Here is an excerpt from Michael Dirda's review of The Elegance of the Hedgehog from the Washington Post.

THE ELEGANCE OF THE HEDGEHOG by Muriel Barbery [right], translated from the French by Alison Anderson.

"Renée Michel is the dumpy, nondescript, 54-year-old concierge of a small and exclusive Paris apartment building...

"Paloma Josse also lives in the building. Acutely intelligent, introspective and philosophical, this 12-year-old views the world as absurd... despises her coddled existence, her older sister Colombe (who is studying at the École normale supérieure), and her well-to-do parents... After careful consideration of what life is like, Paloma has secretly decided to kill herself on her 13th birthday.

"These two characters provide the double narrative of The Elegance of the Hedgehog, and you will -- this is going to sound corny -- fall in love with both... Out of context, Madame Michel's pensees may occasionally sound pretentious, just as Paloma might sometimes pass for a Gallic (and female) version of Holden Caulfield. But, for the most part, Barbery makes us believe in these two unbelievable characters...

"At one point Madame Michel asks herself, "What is the purpose of intelligence if it is not to serve others?" What indeed? Certainly, the intelligent Muriel Barbery has served readers well by giving us the gently satirical, exceptionally winning and inevitably bittersweet Elegance of the Hedgehog."

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