Monday, September 28

"The Elegance of the Hedgehog" , Muriel Barbery's second novel is a beautifully written book which elegantly treats the line between literary and commercial fiction. However, I must confess it didn't capture me , at least initially. Several times I was on the point of giving up and starting any other book, but slowly this novel and its characters drew me in and I was completely hooked by the end.

It's a very Fench novel: tender and satirical in its overall tone, but absorbing because of its reflections on the nature of beauty and art, the meaning of life and death. These strands provide Muriel Barbery - one-time philosophy teacher who now lives in Japan - with the opportunity to explore her favourite theme: philosophy as applied to everyday life. Clever, informative and moving, it is essentially a course in philosophy interwoven with a platonic love story. In her brief chapters, more essays than fiction, Renée Michel, its main character, offers a mini-treatise on phenomenology, discuss the function of literature in life and the barrenness of a certain kind of scholarship.

The story provides the confession of two women: Renée Michel, a 54-year old concierge in a Parisian block of luxury apartments, and Paloma Josse, a precocious 12-year old girl, daughter of a wealthy family in the house.

The two narrators alternate chapters, but the book is written from the viewpoint of Renée, with the Paloma's story woven into it. Renée's story is addressed to no one, while Paloma's takes the form of a diary crammed with what she labels "Profound Thoughts" in which she jots down haiku and tanka.

The hedgehog of the title is a witty metaphor for Renée who calls herself "short, ugly and plump", a self-consciously stereotypical working-class nobody, but despite her appearance and outward manner, she possesses a mind of the most infinite refinement and precision. She is an autodidact who loves Mozart, adores Tolstoi, is a devotee of Japanese cinema, listens to Mahler, secretly disdains Husserl's philosophy and even practices the Japanese tea ceremony in her private backroom.

In short, she is more aware and more cultivated than anyone around her. Nevertheless, her inner life is entirely clandestine and she pretends to be far more stupid and uncultivated than she is in order to keep with society's expectations of what a concierge should be.

Her unlikely counterpart is Paloma Josse. Acutely intelligent, introspective and philosophical, this precocious girl views the world as absurd and records her observations about it in her diary. She despises her coddled existence, her older sister and her well-to-do parents, especially her plant-obsessed mother. She believes her life is meaningless and has secretly decided to commit suicide on her 13th birthday.

But halfway through "The Elegance of the Hedgehog" the lives of Paloma and Renée are unexpectedly transformed when a cultured Japanese gentleman named Kakuro Ozu moves into the building. Though clearly rich, he is also immensely courtous, mysterious and shrewd. He immediately perceives that neither the little girl nor the concierge is just what she seems and he decides to discover more about their secret lives. He quickly discerns Renée and Paloma intelligence and taste; he and Renée begin a sentimental friendship based on a shared love of beauty.

As the two characters' lifes overlap, Paloma discovers Renée secret gifts and she writes in her diary: "Madame Michel has the same simple refinement as the hedgehog", a real fortress, bristling with quills on the outside... "deceptively indolent little creature, fiercely solitary but terribly elegant" within.

These two characters provide the double narrative of "The Elegance of the Hedgehog" and you will fall in love with both. Humour and humanity exude throughout the novel, until by the last chapter you will have a tear in your eye.

I enthusiastically recomment this novel for anyone who loves books that grow slowly and then blossom suddenly.

Tuesday, September 22

Autumn Haikus


Autumn: my yearly
clash with conflicting feelings
of joy and despair

Yellow autumn moon ...
unimpressed the scarecrow stands
simply looking bored

Oh scarlet autumn!
that profound punctuation
to shamrock summer

autumn dusks
carecrow points
to the rising moon

first autumn trees
begin to blush
before disrobing

your eyes catch mine
as I stare into the clouds-
autumn daydream

On a withered bough
A crow alone is perching,
Autumn evening now.

The carpet of leaves
dying in silence , deadens
the passing of love.

Sunday, September 20

I Look to You

Wow! Welcome back Whitney Houston!

What an amazing song, for God's sake!

She is back again with this powerful song. Congrats on your beautiful video. I love it.

Monday, September 14

You. Are. Great.

"Validation", Kurt Kuenne's short film, is a tiny little masterpiece, remarkably simple, turning on the premise: what if parking validations aren't just about getting free parking but also validations of your existence?
In this 16-minute fable, a parking attendant gives his customers more than just free parking, he also gives compliments to everyone by telling them their good features.
You are hooked from the initial sweep when gentle Hugh Newman starts "validating" a "customer": "You've got powerful features, man, anyone ever tell you that? Listen, you look a little down... someday people are going to see you for who you really are. You. are. Great."
So, stop what you are doing and devote the next 16 minutes of your life to this magical short, "Validation". Sure you will smile.

Saturday, September 12

As I promised here is the solution of the puzzle.

In this case we were shown a sketch of the brooch exactly as it appeared after the four rubies had been stolen from it. The reader was asked to show the position from which the stones "may have been taken"; for it is not possible to show precisely how the genes were originally placed, because there are many such ways. But an important point was the statement by Lady Littlewood's brother: "I know the brooch well. It originally contained forty-five stones, and there are now only forty-one. Somebody has stolen four rubies, and then reset as small a number as possible in such a way that there shall always be eight stones in any of the directions you have mentioned".

The diagram shows the arrangement before the robbery. It will be seen that it was only necessary to reset one ruby -the one in the centre. Any solution involving the resetting of more than one stone is not in accordance with the brother's statement, and must therefore be wrong. The original arrangement was, of course, a little unsymmetrical, and for this reason the brooch was described as "rather eccentric".