Book Review—The Elegance of the Hedgehog

The Elegance of the Hedgehog Cover

In The Elegance of the Hedgehog, a lot can happen when a middle-aged concierge and a precocious twelve-year-old girl connect thanks to the influence of a retired Japanese businessman. The fact that both the widow and the girl are well read does nothing to assuage the deep existential angst they suffer from as they pretend they are as shallow and uninformed as everyone else. In less-skilled hands, the story would be maudlin. But I found myself often laughing at the sheer absurdity of the situation.

Despite my enjoyment of this well-crafted work, I couldn’t help but wonder if, in the real world, intelligent people are doomed to a life of sadness. The concierge Renée is friends with a Portuguese woman who is more wily than smart, and they do enjoy their afternoon chats over tea and cookies—the one bright spot in Renée’s life. But it’s the girl—Paloma—who doesn’t seem to have anyone, least of all her older sister. And because of this, she is determined to end it all—dramatically. It strikes me that poor people do not have time for such fantasies.

There’s a lot at play in this engaging book, which is mainly a satirical poke at wealth and privilege. The Japanese businessman, Monsieur Ozu, seems to be the antidote. He has taken up residence in the upscale apartment building recently and brings with him a sense of calm beauty. Though privileged himself, Ozu seems to retain genuine humanness that sees beyond rich and poor, well read and illiterate. Thank goodness for that.

You can find this review at Goodreads.

Book Description

The phenomenal New York Times bestseller that “explores the upstairs-downstairs goings-on of a posh Parisian apartment building” (Publishers Weekly).

In an elegant hôtel particulier in Paris, Renée, the concierge, is all but invisible—short, plump, middle-aged, with bunions on her feet and an addiction to television soaps. Her only genuine attachment is to her cat, Leo. In short, she’s everything society expects from a concierge at a bourgeois building in an upscale neighborhood. But Renée has a secret: She furtively, ferociously devours art, philosophy, music, and Japanese culture. With biting humor, she scrutinizes the lives of the tenants—her inferiors in every way except that of material wealth.

Paloma is a twelve-year-old who lives on the fifth floor. Talented and precocious, she’s come to terms with life’s seeming futility and decided to end her own on her thirteenth birthday. Until then, she will continue hiding her extraordinary intelligence behind a mask of mediocrity, acting the part of an average pre-teen high on pop culture, a good but not outstanding student, an obedient if obstinate daughter.

Paloma and Renée hide their true talents and finest qualities from a world they believe cannot or will not appreciate them. But after a wealthy Japanese man named Ozu arrives in the building, they will begin to recognize each other as kindred souls, in a novel that exalts the quiet victories of the inconspicuous among us, and “teaches philosophical lessons by shrewdly exposing rich secret lives hidden beneath conventional exteriors” (Kirkus Reviews).

“The narrators’ kinetic minds and engaging voices (in Alison Anderson’s fluent translation) propel us ahead.” —The New York Times Book Review

“Barbery’s sly wit . . . bestows lightness on the most ponderous cogitations.” —The New Yorker

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Book Review—Between Life and Death

Between Life and Death Cover

Post-apocalyptic books featuring zombies are plentiful. Many follow the typical path. Usually, a quick-spreading virus infects just about everyone on the planet, turning the victims into flesh-craving monsters. A small band of survivors who have yet to be infected must fight for their survival, possibly while searching for a cure. Sound familiar? Oh, and you can bet there’ll be a high body count and plenty of gory action.

Between Life and Death by Ann Christy is different. Instead of loud-mouthed machos with guns, we have Emily, an eighteen-year-old cancer survivor who is holed up in a commercial building, trying desperately to keep herself from going crazy. She’s already doing what her late mother taught her—going on daily patrols and taking out the “deaders” that congregate just outside the fence. Emily is alone, but not for long. Because someone has been watching her—someone who needs her help. And soon, they will make contact.

I liked this novel. Though not big on action, the characters are well drawn and evoke in the reader a deep connection. The story is straightforward and compelling. It is an elegy to loneliness in a wrecked world. If you enjoy stories of courage, I recommend you read Between Life and Death.

You can find this review at Goodreads.

Book Description

The World Is Dead. One Will Rise.Eighteen year old Emily has a system. She wakes, eats, brushes her teeth, then spends the morning bashing the monsters that gather at her fences. That’s labeled as cardio on her schedule. Vigorous cardio.

The problem isn’t staying alive anymore. It’s being alone. Two years of solitude while surrounded by death is too much. When she starts having deep conversations with the birds roosting on her roof, she realizes she’s in real trouble.

Going beyond her fences means almost certain death, but if she stays inside, insanity will eventually take her. When one of the monsters at her gate turns out to be the bearer of a message, Emily feels hope for the first time since the end came. There are others out there, but they’re in trouble and they won’t survive much longer without some help.

If Emily can brave a trip through the mad, dead world, she might have a shot at a real life. She just has to survive the trip, and that’s not going to be easy.

Between Life and Death: The In-Betweener is book one of the exciting post-apocalyptic adventure trilogy, Between Life and Death. This book can be read first, or you can dive back to the beginning of the end and read the prequel, Between Life and Death: The Book of Sam.

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