“How distressing to stumble on a dominant social habitus, just when one was convinced of one’s own uniqueness in the matter! Distressing, and perhaps even a bit annoying. The fact that in spite of my confinement in a loge that confirms in every way to what is expected, in spite of an isolation that should have protected me from the imperfections of the masses, in spite of those shameful years in my forties when I was utterly ignorant of the changes in the vast world to which I am confined; the fact that I, Renee, fifty-four years old, concierge and autodidact, am witness to the same changes that are animating the present-day elite- little Pallieres in their exclusive schools who read Marx then go off in gangs to watch Terminator, or little Badoises who study law in Assas and sob into their Kleenex at Notting Hill– is a shock from which I can scarcely recover”. – Muriel Barbery
Two female protagonists belonging to two different social strata in Paris. A 50 something fat concierge and a 13-year-old girl who lives in the building with her rich parents and her older sister. The concierge is an avid reader of Tolstoy and an admirer of great works of art. Her interest and knowledge in good books, movies and paintings are as clandestine as the teenager Paloma’s decision of committing suicide on her thirteenth birthday. The book is beautiful in every respect. Muriel Barbery‘s writing invokes a lot of thinking with respect to the superficial world that we live in. Paloma, the teenager is disgusted with the shallowness that she experiences around her. Renee keeps to herself for the most part except for her friend Manuela and the books that she reads. Both come together for their love of knowledge. Paloma knows that Renee is not an ordinary concierge and Renee can tell that Paloma is not a fluttering young butterfly either.
Paloma writes her thoughts which she calls ‘Profound thought #’ and she likes to be left alone most of the time. To escape from her family she likes to spend time in Renee’s loge.
Manuela’s pastries, the arrival of Ozu in the building, the chance utterance of Tolstoy’s lines by Renee in front of Ozu, his interest in her intelligent company, her transformation by way of a hairstyle, a couple stolen outfits, Ozu and Renee’s meals and movies meetings are each of the scenes that are masterpieces in themselves. The ending is a surprise one. But for Renee’s accidental death at the end, it would closely resemble a goody- all- is- well- fairytale with Renee being rescued by Ozu, the rich guy in the shining armor.
Muriel Barbery’s maturity in storytelling shines through at the end with the twist. Great Read. Although it starts off as a heavy one.