Meet Renee (or Madame Michel as she is also known), the concierge at Number 7, Rue de Grenelle. Only she is not your typical concierge. Behind the mask of an average telly-loving, couch-sitting, frumpy looking concierge, Renee in fact has a love of reading philosophy, enjoying art in its various forms and taking pleasure in some of the finer aspects of culture. She is way more knowledgeable than her rich Parisian employers at 7 Rue de Grenelle. She is the hedgehog.
On the outside, she’s covered in quills……on the inside, she has the same simple refinement of the hedgehog: a deceptively indolent little creature, fiercely solitary – and terribly elegant. (pg. 139)
Also living at 7 Rue de Grenelle is 12 year old Paloma Josse. Paloma is an extremely intelligent girl who despises her bourgeois family and neighbours — her politician father, her mother who thinks psychoanalysis is the answer to her troubles, her older sister Colombe who is flighty and arrogant. Paloma has a plan to avoid the future she thinks is pretty much set out for her. By planning to commit suicide on her 13th birthday. And in the process setting fire to the apartment.
However, both their lives are changed by the arrival of a newcomer to the building. Monsieur Kakuro Ozu.
In order to find out how, you need to read the book.
It’s an engaging book that looks at philosophy and poses interesting philosophical questions, into people’s behaviours and attitudes, the class discrimination that exists and most importantly, delves into the characters of Renee and Paloma. It’s not necessarily a book about a basic plot or story but rather about life in general through the eyes of two main characters. The story seems to occur around the characters (if that makes sense). There are several profound statements and thoughts, particularly in the form of Paloma’s journal on profound thoughts. And there is a search for Beauty in life. There are moments that make you smile, some that make you chuckle and some that make you cry.
Here are just a couple of examples of the lines that I found meaningful:
If you want to heal
And smile or weep
At this happy reversal of fate (pg 286)
Our eyes may perceive, yet they do not observe; they may believe, yet they do not question; they may receive, yet they do not search: they are emptied of desire, with neither hunger nor passion. (pg 300)
The book has been translated from French into English. And yet, the language is beautiful. It’s definitely a work of literature. The book can leave you with this heavy feeling in your heart but also with the thought that there is beauty in this world we live in. No matter how cruel. No matter how fake. No matter how cynical. No matter how discriminatory. There is still beauty. You just have to know where to find it.