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Customer reviews

4.0 out of 5 stars
4.0 out of 5 stars

on 27 April 2010
J'ai adoré ce livre: de belles réflexions en perspective sans le style prétentieux qui caractérise trop souvent les ouvrages littéraires français. J'ai trouvé la concierge attachante et le thème assez original. Les clichés de la société contemporaine française sont abordés avec beaucoup d'intelligence, de perspicacité ...
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on 20 August 2017
I found this book disappointing. Perhaps rereading it in a more receptive state of mind I'd see more of the qualities that make some readers so enthusiastic. I don't really think so. I could see Barbery's personal intelligence, articulacy and intellectual sophistication clearly enough. They kept me going and kept me hoping for a redeeming change of perspective. It never arrived. In the end I half felt I'd wasted my time on a book that became not less but more laboured, cliched and sentimental as it went on. I felt it trapped the reader in two points of view - those of the concierge, Renee, and the supposedly brilliant twelve year old Paloma, both of which were patently inadequate in ways that screamed out for illumination but each of which kept such a tight grip on their section of the narrative that there was no alternative way of seeing things. Taking the two views at face value condemns you to a very partial, grossly sentimental view of the events narrated; you may resist this view but it's the only dark glass the book offers. Of course theoretically I could have seen Renee as limited and self-deceiving and felt a deep pathos in in those very limitations and delusions and I might do on another reading, but that's not how it worked for me this time.

I only half feel I wasted my time, though, because I'm currently reading Barbery's Une gourmandise, which focuses on one of the minor characters in L'elegance du herisson - the obnoxious food critic - and reading it with great pleasure. This is partly because of the evocativeness of the prose, but partly because perspectives are constantly shifting in ways that delight and surprise, and because it's imaginatively stretching and liberating to be made to see things from the point of view of a character so far from being automatically or sentimentally sympathetic.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 13 April 2012
...is even more engaging as we have more of the inner thoughts of the two main characters. Renee, the concierge (who conceals her inner elegance and culture under the prickly surface of a hedgehog and who believes herself to be ugly) talks to us in an individual voice, revealing a deeply contemplative nature with profound insights into human beings. When she describes the death and illness of her husband she remarks: "Lucien etait une non-existence qui retournait a un neant.." which corresponds to the later perception that most people simply do not see a concierge. One exception is the new tenant Kakuro Ozu who recognises her learning from an exchange of a quotation from Tolstoy (and notes that her cat is called Leon!) He pursues an honest and affectionate friendship with her and she transforms her appearance for her meetings with him. The other point of view is that of Paloma who writes each "Pensee profonde" in chapters interspersed with Renee's: she intends to commit suicide on her next birthday, her thirteenth. She is alienated from her wealthy family who seem superficial although well-read and with whom she shares one sole interest: chocolate. Her ruminations take in cats, death, music and how to live or die. These three characters (there are others, including Paloma's family, Renee's friend Manuela, animals and other tenants) share a love of beauty and the integrity of their relationship binds them together until the shock of ... The book is superbly written and imagined - a modern classic.
There is another edition in the series "nrf" of Gallimard, more expensive but worth it for the appropriately elegant plain beige cover with its geometric edging, satisfyingly thick paper and the use of different fonts for the interwoven chapters with their differing points of view. I collect these editions and have never found a dud read amongst them but, if you want to buy one, contact the seller first as the photo is not always accurate.
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VINE VOICEon 22 February 2012
Renee a 54 years old widow has been a Concierge of a grand Parisian apartment for over 20 years and appears to be your typical conventional almost anonymous person. In fact she takes great care to hide the secret that she is completely in love with knowledge. She is naturally passionate about culture and art and is much more well read than her employers. She takes care in making sure she acts and dresses as a 'typical' concierge - as this is what is expected. This is a very funny book in places as Renee cannot help herself at times in retorting or trying to conceal her re action to offensive use of grammar. She can go from disliking someone to accepting them if they address her properly and with respect to the language. Added to this a Monsieur Ozu becomes the new owner of one of the appartments and he realises that Renee is hiding behind her 'uniform'. Other members of the apartments also play a great part in this very moving story.
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on 5 December 2010
Brilliant novel - wonderful portrait of a French concierge in a swishy Paris
building. She's shy, reticent, does the bidding of all the snobs in the
apartments - but this is only surface. Underneath, she is life and thought,
blessed by an inquisitive mind.
She is witty and philosophical, but the one thing missing from her life is love.

Enter a new tenant, a Japanese man who sees her for what she really is: an elegant
woman, ready for love, and wise. I won't betray the ending. Anyone reading this book will
be taken on some mind-provoking asides into art, music, history and the stratification of French
Funny, sad, a delightful book!
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on 15 February 2010
such a lovely book, there aren't many like this. a real must read. No wonder she won so many awards for her book!
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on 7 May 2013
I bought this book as we are working through it in an adult eductation French class. Our standard is about AS level, but this book is too advanced for most of us. The vocabulary is very flowery and full of words you would never ordinarily use. I had to buy the English translation in order to understand the French text, but it's still a chore. A good story, but unless your French is fluent, I would give it a miss - or buy the English translation and/or watch the film in French with English subtitles.
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on 7 November 2010
Beautifully written and it motivated me to read all those classical books and watch all those classic films I used to think would be boring or too difficult, instead I discovered beauty.
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on 16 August 2010
Have recently discovered Muriel and she has become my favourite authoress. Such in depth understanding of people. Love the way you get the story from different points of view. Book arrived in good condition too! Thoroughly recommend.
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on 6 February 2013
I had started to read this book at a friends and it seemed a good read, so I ordered it for my Kindle. Only to find it is in French. I know this was probably my fault for not checking. The result is. it has been a complete waste of money because I can't read French.
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