At 7 Rue de Grenelle, an apartment building filled with upper mid-class families, live two very distinct people. Firstly, Renée Michel, the conciérge, who reads Russian literature, watched Japanese films and is an autodidact. However, Renée pretends to be dumb and illiterate, to shield herself from the buildings’ tenants condemning eyes.
Secondly, Paloma Josse, a precocious 12 year-old girl who masks her intelligence at school so as to not draw attention to herself. Dismayed with her snob family and humanity in general, she decides to commit suicide by taking her mother’s sleeping pills and setting fire to her family’s apartment.
One day, a wealthy Japanese man comes to live in the building, and manages to make Paloma feel accepted and unearths Renée’s true identity. It’s a philosophical novel, thinly disguised as fiction, and it’s really good.
My first impression was, ‘oh, wow, this is such a pretentious book’. But then all these little tidbits I’d had floating around my head, and questions I wanted to ask for years are suddenly there, printed on the pages before me! And it’s wonderful! All these musings about life are beautifully intertwined with the plot and it’s all so good. I bet it’s even more gorgeous in the original French.
The ending was very surprising to me, heartbreaking even, but in a peaceful sort of way. Does that make sense? It’s how I view this book; the calm before a storm that is actually just a slight summer breeze.