Author: Muriel Barbery, 2006. Translated from the French by Alison Anderson, 2008.
Genre: Modern Fiction. Literary.
Other Details: Paperback. 320 pages.
The two narrators of this novel are Renée Michel, the 54-year-old concierge of a Parisian block of luxury apartments, and Paloma Josse, the precocious 12-year-old daughter of a diplomat and socialite. We learn very quickly that both are hiding their true selves from those around them. Paloma has decided that life is essentially meaningless and is making plans to commit suicide on her 13th birthday unless she can find something in the world, some truth or beauty, that makes life worth living. Renee is an intelligent and highly cultured woman, whose uses her dowdy appearance and the pretence that she is dull and stupid to remain invisible to tenants and visitors. Both Renee and Paloma keep diaries, in which they record their musings on the nature of beauty, the meaning of life, art and literature along with wry observations on the upper middle class Parisians they live among.
When one of the building's long-term tenants dies, Kakuro Ozu, a cultured Japanese businessman, moves in. This change shakes up the very settled world of the apartment building. Paloma already has suspicions about Renee's true nature and soon these are shared by Kakuro Ozu. They decide that the concierge has 'the same simple refinement as the hedgehog: a deceptively indolent little creature, fiercely solitary - and terribly elegant.' It is a novel in which not very much happens and yet lives are transformed.
Barbery, a former philosophy teacher, utilises the novel's narrative structure to explore the application of philosophy to everyday life. It's an intelligent and sophisticated work, though isn't always an easy read given its strong philosophical elements and wordiness. Still its characterisations and French ambiance are delightful and I found it a genuinely moving tale.
It was a reading group selection and again was a novel that divided opinion. Even though I was in the 'thumbs up' camp, it still took me some time to get into the narrative and sometimes its density of ideas made my brain hurt, though in a good way. It certainly is a novel that I will revisit.
Author: Arto Paasilinna, 1995. Translated from the Finnish by Herbert Lowan.
Genre: Picaresque. Modern Lit.
Other Details: Hardback. 135 pages.
A journalist and a photographer are on assignment one lovely evening and while driving through the countryside they accidentally hit a young hare. Vatanen. the journalist, goes in search of the hare and this leads to a series of events in which he, accompanied by the hare, set off on a journey. He gives up his former life and takes a series of odd jobs, which brings him into contact with a number of eccentric people and odd situations. While not quite Magical Realism, there is certainly a quality of the whimsical about it.
This short book is a cult classic in Finland. The hare has always been one of those animals which has a special meaning for me and so I was eager to read the book. I found myself totally enchanted from start to finish.