I’m not a fast reader, but I read a fair amount and genuinely believe that a good book has the power to change your life. Therefore, I’ve decided to start sharing books I have read which I feel have had a significant impact on the way I see the world today. I will only share books I have read from cover to cover, and really enjoyed.
One such book is Muriel Barbery’s
Before I go any further, here is the synopsis:
Renée is the concierge of a grand Parisian apartment building, home to members of the great and the good. Over the years she has maintained her carefully constructed persona as someone reliable but totally uncultivated, in keeping, she feels, with society’s expectations of what a concierge should be. But beneath this façade lies the real Renée: passionate about culture and the arts, and more knowledgeable in many ways than her employers with their outwardly successful but emotionally void lives. Down in her lodge, apart from weekly visits by her one friend Manuela, Renée lives resigned to her lonely lot with only her cat for company. Meanwhile, several floors up, twelve-year-old Paloma Josse is determined to avoid the pampered and vacuous future laid out for her, and decides to end her life on her thirteenth birthday. But unknown to them both, the sudden death of one of their privileged neighbours will dramatically alter their lives forever.
Books can be such a treat. Reading one on holiday or while travelling gives me an amazing feeling. This one transported me. I particularly love the study of and contrast in emotional fulfillment between the protagonist and the high-class dwellers. To me this was fascinating.
Actually I have always enjoyed and been fascinated by philosophy. It was by far my favourite class at school in my senior years.
If you have no familiarity with philosophy this book may do one or two things for you:
- Engage you in your perception of the world and your interactions with other people.
- Make you feel that there are many things you have no knowledge or awareness of, such as philosophical concepts.
That is a good thing either way.
Most people get/seek very few opportunities for conversations that go any deeper than what they did last night, where they are going on holiday, their favourite shows… events in general. Many books, even if they are not outwardly philosophical like this one, provide a much-needed stimulation in the form of ideology. I see reviews for this book that mistake the style for pretension, but I do not see it at all. It is not heavy either, but it is full of life:
A number of porcupines huddled together for warmth on a cold day in winter; but, as they began to prick one another with their quills, they were obliged to disperse. However the cold drove them together again, when just the same thing happened. At last, after many turns of huddling and dispersing, they discovered that they would be best off by remaining at a little distance from one another. In the same way the need of society drives the human porcupines together, only to be mutually repelled by the many prickly and disagreeable qualities of their nature. The moderate distance which they at last discover to be the only tolerable condition of intercourse, is the code of politeness and fine manners; and those who transgress it are roughly told—in the English phrase—to keep their distance. By this arrangement the mutual need of warmth is only very moderately satisfied; but then people do not get pricked. A man who has some heat in himself prefers to remain outside, where he will neither prick other people nor get pricked himself.
The title of the book evokes the Hedgehog’s Dilemma, a metaphor quoted above by German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer about the challenges of human intimacy , and is very apt considering the story of the main character, Renee.
The writing of the book is flawless and the characters are believable, relatable, and multidimensional. They each have a defined voice. Their struggles, joys and sorrows leave a powerful echo and I found it very hard to put the book down whenever I was reading it.
I look forward to trying Barbery’s first book, The Gourmet, which should be on its way to me soon.