Beauty and Art and Death

Elegance of the Hedgehog

What’s it about?
The Elegance of the Hedgehog is about its three main characters: Renee, the concierge of an apartment building in Paris; Paloma, the super-smart 12-year-old who is already tired of life; and Ozu, the new Japanese tenant. Renee is also an autodidact who hides her intelligence, afraid that everyone else will discover her; Paloma is frustrated by her family; and Ozu is the magical person who brings out the best in both of them.

Why should you read it?
I should state up front that the Elegance of the Hedgehog is French. It takes place in Paris, it is largely about death and philosophy, and has a very particular voice. It was for me, but it is not for everyone.

I found it to be a beautiful character sketch with all kinds of philosophical asides about art and death. (Did I mention it has a very French outlook?) Do I agree with its ideas about Death and Beauty and Art? I do agree that we are, in the end, all worm food, and I also agree with the idea that there are people who are more authentically elegant than others. The author seems in particular to damn people who want cultural power without appreciating the culture. Like the people who raise money for causes because it means they get to dress up and go to the party where they are seen and see others; not because they care for the cause. She holds a lot of contempt for those folks. They still do good things, of course, but for suspicious motives.

I enjoyed it, particularly because I had been reading a book I didn’t much care for right before it. This one made my world better.

Death and the family

Everything I Never Told You

What’s it about?
It’s the 1970s, and a teenaged girl has died. Lydia Lee doesn’t come down for breakfast. Her family breaks a little bit. Her father, James, is the son of Chinese immigrants – he was the only Asian child in the small town in Iowa where he grew up; his family is the only Asian family in small-town Ohio where they live now. Blond, white Marilyn grew up in a traditional home in Maryland – and was whip smart in science and was determined to be a doctor. In the 1960s. Instead, she gets pregnant with Lydia’s older brother, Nathan. So James and Marilyn get married – and Marilyn’s mother never speaks to her again. And then there’s Hannah, the littlest sister, who gets used to being an afterthought. How does Lydia’s death change them?

Why should you read it?
It’s an amazing character study. Very little actually happens in the main plot line of the book: Lydia dies near the end of the school year, when we wrap up, it’s about six weeks later and everyone is mourning. How do they mourn? It depends very much on who they are and how they related to Lydia. James wanted Lydia to be popular and social. Marilyn wanted her to become a doctor. Nathan wanted to help her keep the family together. Hannah just wants someone to see her.

Everything I Never Told You is a lovely book. I’d highly recommend it.