Paloma is looking for a reason to keep living and at times she thinks she may have found it only to realize, that no, that is not good enough. Renee is cynical and she is reiterating her dim view of life, with only her art as the highlight. Both characters are completely different, yet each is searching for meaning.
Muriel Barbery is a French novelist and The Elegance of the Hedgehog was originally written in French and is a novel of ideas. The story is told with a first person narrative that alternates between the two main protagonists. Renée Michel is a 54 year old concierge (landlady) of an upper middle class apartment building. Paloma Josse is a 12 year old girl, who lives in one of the apartments.
Both the characters are living a lie; they are pretending to be less than what they really are because neither feels they will be accepted. Numerous times Ms. Barbery uses exaggeration as a means of portraying her point. It was obvious that the book had been translated from French into English because the language selected for numerous words are not commonly used, for example Renee refers to her apartment as a loge. There are some pretty profound thoughts and observations in the final chapter, with both characters experiencing epiphanies.
Although the story slowly unfolds, the book concentrates more on the internal dialogue of each of the characters as they examine the meaning of life then on actual plot. However, things do pick up in the last quarter of the book. There is a lot of philosophising in this book by both characters and at times, Paloma seems much older and far more cynical than most twelve year olds. The story also has both a sad yet uplifting ending. The book is not for everyone, but if you enjoy analyzing life, then you should give this book a try.
My favourite quote: Moments like this act as magical interludes, placing our hearts at the edge of our souls: fleetingly, yet intensely, a fragment of eternity has come to enrich time. Elsewhere the world may be blustering or sleeping, wars are fought, people live and die, some nations disintegrate, while others are born, soon to be swallowed up in turn-and in all this sound and fury, amidst eruptions and undertows, while the world goes its merry way, bursts into flames, tears itself apart and is reborn: human life continues to throb.