Renee is the concierge of a building filled with wealthy apartment owners. She appears to be a typical concierge, but only because she desperately tries to cover up her true self: a woman who has a deep love for philosophy, literature, and the arts. Renee muses throughout the novel about the interesting lives of the tenants within the building and their world of wealth. Paloma is a twelve year old girl who lives in one of the apartments where Renee is a concierge. Based on the lives of the wealthy among her, Paloma has decided that life holds no true meaning, and plans to set the building on fire and then end her own life as well. Paloma creates two journals, “A Journal of Profound Thought” and “A Journal of the Movement of the World” where she intellectualizes the reasons for why life may or may not be worth living. Renee and Paloma eventually realize that they have much in common, despite their age differences, and begin to share life together.
The Elegance of the Hedgehog is one of the most thought provoking books I have read in a long time. Muriel Barbery has set up the book in such a way that each chapter is a journal entry or type of musing from either Renee or Paloma. Because of this, the reader is able to see into the thoughts of each of the two main characters. Renee’s discussions throughout the novel are heavily based on philosophical thought as she is a great lover of philosophy, especially Karl Marx. She made many conclusions about life that caused me to stop and think about her ideas. Paloma’s journal entries were thought provoking as well, but in a different way. She is an extremely intelligent twelve year old girl who is trying to convince herself that life is worth living. Frustrated with the way that she sees her wealthy parents and neighbors living fake and frivolous lives, she seeks to find meaning in it all.
Paloma finally becomes friends with Renee when she is trying to find a place to hide far away from her family. Paloma and Renee’s encounters in the book are refreshing and reminded me of the importance of having honest relationships.