I bought a copy of Muriel Barbery's novel the Elegance of the Hedgehog a little while ago, but decided to wait until I was in France to read it - it seemed to be more appropriate, despite the fact that the setting for the story is an elegant appartment block in Paris, not la France profonde. It was a beautiful read., full of delicious detail about the lives of the families who live in the appartments. The story is narrated by the concierge, Renee, who although from apoor background, nevertheless has read widely all her life and values culture even more than the rich and cultured occupants of the appartments. We also meet Paloma, the younger daughter of a politician and his socialist wife, who is thinking of committing suicide on her thirteenth birthday. She expresses herself through a series of profound thoughts, is an avid manga (Japanese comic book) reader and is teaching herself Japanese. There are numerous references to socialist and communist texts and people, to various philosophers, as well as to Japanese culture - a fascinating blend.
When one of the occupants of the appartments dies, both Renee's and Paloma's lives are changed in ways they never dreamt of.
A book I thoroughly recommend.