Some time last week I finished reading The Elegance of the Hedgehog, by Muriel Barbery, which I got for my birthday in May. It's translated from French, and now I've read it in English I kind of want to read the French.
There is a certain quality particular to a lot of French literature, which I once failed utterly at explaining, but which I really enjoy. It's a clarity, an ability to be profound without being frilly and using too many words or too obscure words. I wonder if it's got to do with French having much less vocabulary than English, so there's no need to use excessive quantities of synonyms. Anyway, this quality works especially well for this book, which talks a lot about Japanese culture and art and whatnot, and there's a certain similarity between simplicity in Japanese art and this slightly indefinable quality of French writing.
The book is about people who hide what they are--Renee, a concierge in a posh apartment building who is really very intellectual but puts on a front of being a typical dull concierge, and an inhabitant of the apartment building, Paloma, an extremely intelligent twelve-year-old who pretends to be merely average, and who is so fed up with what she sees as the meaninglessness of life that she's decided to kill herself on her thirteenth birthday. The book is told by these two characters, alternating between Renee's chapters, and Paloma's Profound Thoughts and Journals of the Movement of the World. Eventually, someone new moves into the building...
This is a terribly well put together book. Some books I like because they are sort of dumbly satisfying, with happy endings and whatnot, but this I like because it is very true, and it doesn't all go the way you want it to but that's what life is like. All together, I liked it a great deal.