The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery

The Elegance of the HedgehogThis was a book I bought when I went on a book shopping frenzy. I had not really heard of the book but the title and description were interesting enough. So when I started reading the book I was disappointed and had a hard time getting through the first part of the book. However, I stuck to the book and was pleasantly surprised.

Part of the reason I had a hard time with the first part of the book was that it was too philosophical. Philosophy was never my favorite subject and will probably never be, mainly because I don’t really get answers. I find that I usually end up with more questions. I also found the characters a bit off-putting. At first it seems that both of the protagonists think they are above others, a little condescending.

The story is narrated by the two protagonists, Renee and Paloma, alternating chapters. Renee is a 54-year-old widow concierge of a posh Parisian apartment building and Paloma is a 12-year-old tenant planning to commit suicide on her 13th birthday. They are both intellectuals who have been disappointed with life and hide their true selves by playing the roles society has dealt them. I found the character of Paloma a bit unconvincing. Renee’s character becomes more dimensional after she shares her history. It explains why she believes people of different social classes cannot mix. I also found it interesting that both had this affinity for Japanese culture.

The story picks up after a new tenant moves in, Monsieur Ozu. Both the characters are so wrapped up in themselves that they failed to notice they were kindred spirits. It is not until Monsieur Ozu brings them together that they see how much they both have in common. It is also this connection that allows the two of them to open up and confide in each other. They also begin to realize that they do not have to follow the status quo and can be themselves.

For me the best part of the book was the story of Jean Arthens and the camellias; beauty in its simplicity can give us hope. Although, I struggled with the book I did enjoy the end even if it was dramatic and unexpected. The one thing this book left me with is that sometimes we are all too busy and wrapped up in ourselves that we don’t see each other. So it might not be a bad idea to take time to observe people—who knows we may find a kindred spirit.

“The Picture of Dorian Gray” by Oscar Wilde

I read The Picture of Dorian Gray a while ago but its one of those books that you just never forget. When I was first introduced to the book I wasn’t interested in it at all, it seemed boring and long. If you have ever read the book you know that it is everything but boring and maybe it’s a little long but it’s worth reading.

Basil Hallward is a painter creating a portrait of the young dashingly handsome Dorian Gray when Lord Henry Wotton enters to observe. Lord Henry begins to express his opinions on beauty and the world to Dorian Gray, ignoring the constant opinion of Basil who is telling him to stop. From here on after Dorian Gray seems to believe that beauty is the only worthy characteristic of a person. His vanity is  his doom. He rejects his true love knowing that she will one day get old and lose her physical beauty. He becomes rude and condescending towards everyone. He essentially loses his true beauty. Dorian Gray is a perfect representation of how the focus on physical beauty can take away from inner beauty. The portrait painted by Basil soon begins to show the true Dorian, it now shows an ugly person who is deprived of any form beauty. Oscar Wilde does a truly magnificent job in stating that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”. This book is a beautiful winding story of self destruction. I would recommend this book to anyone who appreciates different perspectives on true beauty.

“It is better to be beautiful than to be good. But it is better to be good than to be ugly.”