Wednesday, June 3, 2009
The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery
I finished Hedgehog last night and was bawling for quite some time after I had put the book down. I felt sad, betrayed and angry - Sad because Madame Michel died, betrayed that Barbery killed Madame Michel at the end and I was angry because Madame Michel was not going to live the happy life I had envisioned for her and Kakuro. Today, I am still haunted by the end and still feeling sad over the loss of Madame Michel. Perhaps its my current mood, but this book just really affected me emotionally. Elegance is about two fascinating characters whose views of life and death are skewed by their class/social status and by their disconnection with people. Madame Michel is the concierge of a posh hotel, where the twelve year old Paloma resides with her family. Both Madame Michel and Paloma hide their true selves from the people around them, in the hopes of remaining invisible. Madame Michel hides her vast intelligence from the posh residents in order to maintain the decorum that she is a mere concierge who only knows about opening the door, delivering the mail and taking care of the garbage. Behind her door, nestled in her loge, she reads and reads, toils the time away with her fat cat, Leo (named afer Tolstoy), and has tea with her one and only friend, Manuela (the housekeeper for several of the families residing in the hotel). Paloma is an extremely smart kid who loves all things Japanese and plans to committ suicide by her thirteenth birthday by taking pills (after she has set the apartment on fire). She hides her intellect from her family because she does not want them to know just how smart she is, or they will then begin to pay even more attention to her, and she will no longer be able to hide and scribble her thoughts on movement and life. Both of these characters draw you into their worlds in such a way that you do not want to leave. And then you are introduced to the man who opens the minds and hearts of both Madame Michel and Paloma - the new Japanese tennant, Kakuro Ozu. Kakuro quickly surmises that Madame Michel is not who she seems and that Paloma is not your average child. Through Kakuro we learn so much more about Madame Michel and Paloma and you begin to see the hope of a lovely future for all three of these wonderful characters. Paloma realizes that she does not want to die and Madame Michel meets the man who opens her heart and mind to the possibility of being herself and being comfortable with who she really is, an intelligent, beautiful woman. And then wham! Madame Michel gets hit by a dry cleaning bus and that is the end of her future with Kakuro, Manuela, Paloma, Leo and herself. I know there is meaning behind this sudden death, but I am not quite there yet, in wanting to actually contemplate it, because I am still mourning my happy ending. This book was beautifully written and the characters were brilliant and I can honestly say that I would consider this to be one of my favorite books. There is so much in the book, that I am forgetting to mention, but that is alright, because truth betold, I am more interested in the way the book made me feel. I was surprised at how attached I had become to the characters and how heartbroken I felt for their loss upon hearing of Madame Michel's death. Definitely a moving book.