I finished reading this book over a week ago. Actually, I listened to the audio version. I really liked it, but I'm not sure what to say about it. It is quite different from any other book I've read or listened to. My first thought was, HOLY BIG WORDS! There were quite a few words I didn't know the meaning of and quite a few French words too. (I knew they were speaking French when the words started sounding like they had swallowed some Elmer's Glue.) Anyway, combine those two things with some rants on philosophy the author gets into and the beginning of this book could scare you off. Don't let it though. I think you will like it if you keep at it.
It isn't a story that is plot-driven. This one is all about the characters. The story has two narrators and the audio version I bought from Audible had two different readers. The part of Madame Michel was read by an older woman, who, at first, sounded like she probably bought her cigarettes by the carton or maybe the case. I grew to really like her reading though. She was spot on with emphasizing the right words, making the pauses just right, and adding some dramatics to it without getting weird. She really brought Madame Michel to life for me. The younger narrator was really good too, but for me, her character wasn't as easy to like.
Renee Michel is a 54-year-old widowed concierge of an upscale apartment building in Paris where Paloma Josse , the other main character and narrator, lives. Paloma is the super-intelligent 12-year-old daughter of a diplomat and a socialite. She doesn't relate well with her parents or her older sister and she plans to commit suicide on her 13th birthday unless she finds something in the world worth living for. Madame Michel is a very intelligent, well-read, self-taught lover of art, books, music and movies. She tries to hide behind a mask of stupidity or at least a mask of averageness, if that is a word, and doesn't want the upper-class people of the apartment building to know about her secret life.
I kept wondering when the two characters would interact, but when the elegant Japanese gentleman, Kakuro Ozu, moves into the building, it finally happens. All the other tenants are intrigued by him and they all seem anxious to be in his favor. But it is Renee and Paloma that catch his interest. The story really picked up as the book becomes more about the relationship of these three.
Renee's character was my favorite. She had this extraordinary mind, inside a such a seemingly ordinary person. A review I read said, "She's a character we can all relate to, because don't we all feel just a little bit misunderstood, and wouldn't we all like to say we are more than what meets the eye? " She told herself she didn't want others to know the real her and went to great lengths to keep her secrets, yet, I think she actually enjoyed being discovered; finally being seen and fully understood by Paloma and Mr. Ozu. We all tend to keep parts of ourselves hidden until we totally trust another person and when we find a person we fully trust, we want them to know us, the real us.
I think I will try to buy this book in print. There were some passages that were worth reading over a few times and really savoring. It's not necessarily the philosophical stuff. I doubt I'd have missed that if the author had left it out. Sometimes I thought she was just writing it to show off. Having said that, it was nice to have a book that made me think and one of the main things I discovered is that I don't really think enough. It was a smart book, that sometimes made me feel stupid, but it is a book with feeling too. I definitely give it a thumbs up.
This would be a fun book to have a live discussion about. There are so many interesting little passages and discussing them would broaden my understanding and my appreciation of it.
The references to Tolstoy and especially Anna Karenina made me want to read that next. I know it is long and I'm not usually in to really long books. I'm just wondering if anybody has read it and has an opinion about whether it's worth the time commitment.