Thursday, July 8, 2010
The enthralling international bestseller. We are in the center of Paris, in an elegant apartment building inhabited by bourgeois families. Renée, the concierge, is witness to the lavish but vacuous lives of her numerous employers. Outwardly she conforms to every stereotype of the concierge: fat, cantankerous, addicted to television. Yet, unbeknownst to her employers, Renée is a cultured autodidact who adores art, philosophy, music, and Japanese culture. With humor and intelligence she scrutinizes the lives of the buildings tenants, who for their part are barely aware of her existence. Then there's Paloma, a twelve-year-old genius. She is the daughter of a tedious parliamentarian, a talented and startlingly lucid child who has decided to end her life on the sixteenth of June, her thirteenth birthday. Until then she will continue behaving as everyone expects her to behave: a mediocre pre-teen high on adolescent subculture, a good but not an outstanding student, an obedient if obstinate daughter. Paloma and Renée hide both their true talents and their finest qualities from a world they suspect cannot or will not appreciate them. They discover their kindred souls when a wealthy Japanese man named Ozu arrives in the building. Only he is able to gain Palomas trust and to see through Renées timeworn disguise to the secret that haunts her. This is a moving, funny, triumphant novel that exalts the quiet victories of the inconspicuous among us.
Honestly, this book was incredibly slow. It wasn't until the second half that I felt like continuing at all, and even then, not much happened. It is decidedly a character-driven novel, and even then, it's much more philosophy oriented, with long stretches of prose about topics, apparently of interest, though I may not actually find them such. The characters themselves, "closet intellectuals" actually kind of bothered me, at least until the end. They were decidedly snobby about their position in life, their view of everyone else as inferior. To be perfectly honest, I'm around a lot of very intelligent people every day--I work and study at a university, for pete's sake, and well, the smartest people I know aren't the ones who think they're smart. It's the humble ones who think they're still in the process of learning that are the truly intelligent ones, in my opinion at least. Therefore, I kind of was annoyed with the characters here, who were portrayed as being so full of their own minds. UGH. Anyhow, it was an interesting read, in places, and I rather liked the Japanese man who moves into the building--if anything, he's the kind of intelligent individual that intellectuals should aspire to be like. But, overall, quite a slog of a read.