I struggled with Muriel Barbery’s novel through the first 125 pages. Like “You Deserve Nothing’ it is based in Paris. A concierge and a precocious twelve-year-old resident in a bourgeois apartment each share their ruminations on class, classical literature, art, philosophy and the meaning of life. The concierge masks her superior intelligence for fear of rising above her station, while the child, filled with the angst of an introvert recoils from her family.
The novel is structured like a personal journal, each imparting their “profound” thoughts sequentially. The different font and titling of the chapters helps distinguish who is the narrator.
The arrival of a new resident, a truly wealthy Japanese man, provides the novel with some plot. Both the concierge and the girl find solace in the simplicity of Japanese culture and his unpretentious intellect and demeanor. This is not a book for francophiles.
The prose is not distinguishing and the wisdom is commonplace. It received good reviews, but even as young adult literature it falls short for me. Unlike “You Deserve Nothing” which captures the tension and difficulties of teenagers and expats, I do not know why a young adult would find this novel interesting. Perhaps a pre-teen who aims to impress may be drawn to 12 year-old Paloma.