Wednesday, November 18, 2009


Renee is the frumpy 54-year-old concierge in a posh Paris residential high-rise. Paloma is an ultra-precocious 12-year-old who resides in the building with her wealthy, educated, superficial family. These two narrators ultimately find themselves kindred spirits, joined by new resident Monsieur Ozu, a Japanese gentleman who has aroused the curiosity of everyone else in the building. Both Renee and Paloma are leading a clandestine life, but Monsieur Ozu recognizes almost immediately that Renee, despite her impoverished upbringing, is a closet intellectual with a finely-honed appreciation for the arts. She quotes Proust and Kant, recognizes Mozart's Reqiuem when it is blasted from Ozu's bathroom, and prefers Dutch painters over French. Paloma's chapters are journal entries of "Profound Thoughts." She is the top student in her school but keeps her smarts in check so as not to draw too much attention to herself. She is also matter-of-factly planning suicide, unless something to live for appears in the meantime. At times, both Renee and Paloma wax philosophical, making the book a bit of a snoozer in the beginning. However, after the three main characters discover each other, I became hooked. Will Renee overcome her reticence and break out of the shackles of her class and position? Will her new friendships give Paloma the raison d'etre that she's seeking? Renee is the Cinderella character that we're hoping has found her prince, and Paloma provides her own brand of cynical humor. Her mother immediately carts her off to the family psychiatrist when Paloma tells the family that she hears voices, just to get them off her case. The scene where she cuts a deal with the shrink is priceless.

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