Translation (2008) by Alison Anderson
Readers: Barbara Rosenblat as Renee and Cassandra Morris as Paloma.
In a nutshell:
Renee Michel is the concierge at a Parisian apartment building inhabited by the rich and pretentious. She keeps up a dull facade to the tenants but has an active life of the mind, fueled by philosophy books, Tolstoy and Japanese films. Paloma Josse is a 12 year old girl whose family resides in the building. She too is very intelligent but despairs of finding meaning to life.
When a kind and observant Japanese gentleman moves into a recently vacated flat in their building, his friendship with both Paloma and Renee will cause them to reassess their view of life.
Have you ever listened to a person rant about how only he or she sees the world clearly, and all other people are mindless sheep? I’ve mostly encountered this sort of person on the internet, especially in the comment sections of news articles. (One of the many reasons why one should avoid the online comment sections of news articles – it’s better for the blood pressure.)
Renee and Paloma remind me of that person. The beginning of the book, especially, is riddled with almost-misanthropic musings. The introduction of the inperturbably gentle Mr. Ozu as a character was a welcome reprieve to all the bitterness. Also Renee and Paloma’s commentary on the world around them softens as a result of their acquaintance with Mr. Ozu. I was definitely a fan of Mr. Ozu. He reminds me of those awesome souls who approach relationships simply and without pretense, who seem never to have heard of the word ‘angst.’
I was not an overall fan of The Elegance of the Hedgehog, however. A major portion of the book consists of either Renee or Paloma’s inner discourse on a subject or insight into an observed event. I don’t object to this rambling style in and of itself, but the content better be worth dragging the reader down into it. Unfortunately, I did not find the content to be all that illuminating or intriguing. Yes, there were some passages that I did enjoy, but mostly they teetered on being tedious. I think I would have managed worse in print. Both audio book narrators were very capable and this helped me through the long-winded nature of their characters’ inner monologues.
Barbery’s decision to throw some abrupt and unnecessary drama into the ending further soured me on the book. Throughout the book, the characters are defined by their grasp of subtlety in an obtuse world. The plot twist at the end seemed decidedly unsubtle in its play for the reader’s emotions.
I’m glad I finished the book, if only so I can throw my opinion into the mixed bag of responses to The Elegance of the Hedgehog.
books i done read – hilarious (negative) review that is too spoiler-iffic to quote here.
Shelf Love – “I understand that the author is a professor of philosophy. This shows in the elegance with which she discusses ideas. But she is also a writer who gives us a lovely story peopled with interesting characters, and manages to tug at our heartstrings, too.”
Vulpes Libris – “At times, these [digressions] read like a rather transparent vehicle for the author’s pet subjects . . . and the integrity of the characters’ voices sometimes suffers as a result.”