Renée is 54 years old and she’s the concierge of a luxury apartment building in 7 rue de Grenelle, Paris. She is a widow, a bit ugly and very intelligent, a quality she desperately tries to hide.
Paloma is 12 years old and lives in that same building. She is too very intelligent, and finds life to be inane and void. For this reason she has decided to commit suicide the day of her 13th birthday.
Mr Ozu is a new tenant in the building, the very first new one in twenty years. He is Japanese, and is interested in art and beauty in the world. He is able to see beyond Renée and Paloma’s façades, and will irremediably change the turn of their stories.
The elegance of the hedgehog by Muriel Barbery ( L’élégance du hérisson in French) is a tiny pearl, a celebration of the beauty of small moments, or as Virginia Woolf wrote of “little daily miracles”. Despite its philosophical aspirations (most chapters seems to be mini-essays of philosophy, and at times it may seems a simple and accessible school book), the language is delicate and fluent and the concepts are easy to understand and never boring. It’s a book of philosophy applied to every day life and offers the reader a pleasing and elegant prose, where the rule seems to be “less is more”.
It’s a reflections not only of philosophy, but of art, literature, music, cinema and all things beautiful in life. Some good and evocative images can be found here and there, a bit too sentimentalist at times, but they make the reader stop and think about life and the essential. It’s an exercise for the soul and the heart, a balmy and graceful parenthesis from the daily hustle and bustle, and it’s one of those books that I wanted to read again when I came to its last word.
[…] Je me suis dit que finalement, c’est peut-être ça la vie: beaucoup de désespoir mais aussi quelques moments de beauté où le temps n’est plus le même. C’est comme si les notes de musique faisaient un genre de parenthèse dans le temps, de suspension, un ailleurs ici même, un toujours dans le jamais. Oui, c’est ça, un toujours dans le jamais.
[…] I have finally concluded, maybe that’s what life is about: there’s a lot of despair, but also the odd moment of beauty, where time is no longer the same. It’s as if those strains of music created an interlude in time, something suspended, an elsewhere that had come to us, an always within never. Yes, that’s it, an always within never.