This novel is narrated in turn by two characters: Renée, a 54-year-old concierge in an upper-class French apartment building, and Paloma, a 12-year-old girl who lives in the building. Both characters are extremely intelligent, so much so that they are alienated from (and feel superior to) the world around them. Renée obsessively hides her intelligence from the building’s rich tenants, since she is positive that she does not and cannot have anything in common with them. Meanwhile, Paloma is so fed up with the dreary, superficial lives of the adults around her that she’s resolved to kill herself on her 13th birthday. However, both Renée and Paloma slowly begin to change when a new tenant, the elegant and polite Kakuro Ozu, moves into the building and brings out their true natures.
I bought this book on a whim because of the title, without knowing anything about it. Once I started flipping through the pages and reading reviews, I began to think I would dislike it heartily. Both Renée and Paloma seemed incredibly, unbearably pretentious to me; and indeed, neither character is particularly likeable, especially in the beginning. They both feel superior to everyone they know, and they spend most of their time sneering at the mistakes and follies of others. Paloma even has a journal for her “profound thoughts,” and she’s 12. Ugh. However, I actually ended up somewhat enjoying this book. It’s quite funny in places, and the main characters’ quirks eventually grew on me, especially as both Renée and Paloma began to change for the better. The writing is obnoxious in some places but beautiful in others. All in all, I’m glad I gave this book a chance, because I was pleasantly surprised.