At some point while reading ‘The Elegance of the Hedgehog’, you stop and wonder if this book is about external appearances or philosophy or the mediocrity of the bourgeois?
I think it really is contemplation on life – that ephemeral beauty is eternal.
“Beauty, a dazzling apparition that we can only contemplate through the singular, but that opens a tiny window onto eternity and the timelessness of the sublime form.”
The protagonist is fifty-four year old Renee, who during the day dons the mask of a dull and mundane concierge of a high-end apartment complex.
But secretly, she is an autodidact.
Lover of Japanese culture, admirer of still art form by the likes of Pieter Claesz, master of the works of philosophers like Descartes and Kant and a devotee of Tolstoy, Renee tries to hide behind a façade of an inconspicuous poor woman.
In her words….
“At nine in the evening, I put a cassette into the video player, a film by Ozu, The Munekata Sisters.Why? Because Ozu is a genius who can rescue me from biological destiny.
Here is the key to the film.
True novelty is that which does not grow old, despite the passage of time.
The camellia against the moss of the temple, the violet hues of the Kyoto mountains, a blue porcelain cup- this sudden flowering of pure beauty at the heart of ephemeral passion: is this not something we all aspire to? And something that, in our Western civilization, we do not know how to attain?
The contemplation of eternity within the very movement of life “
The second important character is 12 and a half year old, Paloma. If she were to live in the United States, she would be attending the school of the gifted and talented!
Like Renee , Paloma too hides her above-average intelligence and really makes an effort to appear stupider than she actually is. She loves to read Haiku and manga while noting profound thoughts in her journal.
“Profound Thought No:7
These are consequences.”
The truth about Renee is recognized by a new resident of the apartments, Mousier Ozo, during an innocent conversation about the previous residents.
“You know ,all happy families are alike,” I mutter. “Every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way,” he says, giving me an odd look.
All happy families are alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way is the first line in Anna Karenina and like any self-respecting concierge, I am not supposed to have read it”
It is endearing to see Renee, Paloma and Mousier Ozo become friends and lead us to a denouement which, though surprising, leaves us with a peaceful feeling similar to what Renee felt while watching the Munekata Sisters.