Friday, August 27, 2010

Two Very Different but Delightful Books

It's a been a month since I posted any book reviews on here, so it's about time for some more. I've been reading like a madman since the end of last winter. It's not like I've ever taken a break from reading. I don't think there's been a moment in the last twenty years where I haven't had at least one book with a page marker in it. But recently, I've been thirsty for books in a way I haven't been in several years. I've always believed that reading, as a writer, serves to fill the idea bank. You can't keep making withdraws without keeping up on your deposits. Here's two wonderful books I've added to my account of late.

Told from the point of view of two kindred souls, a fifty-something concierge named Renee and a somber twelve-year old named Paloma, The Elegance of the Hedgehog is a clever take on class structure, but also on the hidden lives that people often lead. Both characters try to hide who they are by disguising themselves as the personalities people expect them to be. The characters took a few chapters to grow on me, because they reveal themselves little-by-little to the reader as well. Once I got to know them, I liked them both immensely.

Renee, as the extremely intelligent and observant lower class concierge for upper class snobs, is hilarious. The novel is full of her subtle wit, which much like the character, tries to hide itself but can't keep from spilling over in bunches. It reminded me in spirit of Raymond Queneau's novels, displaying a similar intellectual and literary humor.

Renee is basically an outsider to the entire world and her insights into it are often profound even though it is Paloma whose chapters are titled Profound Thought #.... Paloma's insights are equally tinged with humor, however the humor is colored with a sense of sadness. Where Renee has earned her bitter outlook on life, coming from young Paloma, it serves as a reminder of how unhealthy it can be to become so jaded at such an early age. But as the two of them are brought together around a new tenant who bucks all the conventions that seem to block Renee and Paloma in, both characters come to realize that they are not as isolated as they feel and that perhaps allowing their true personalities show isn't the worst thing.

The conclusion of the book is very surprising and unbelievably moving. The event that transpires gives the message of the book an immediacy that isn't felt until then. A very good read for anyone who has ever felt the idiocy of the world weighing down on them. I actually cried at the end. I can't remember the last time a book made me cry.

The Underneath by Kati Appelt

Any follower of Children's Literature is probably aware of this title. It was recognized with both a Newbery Honor award and as a National Book Award Finalist. It was much deserving too. This is such a beautifully written story with so much heart and valuable life lessons, it should go down with classics such as Charlotte's Web and The Yearling.

This is an animal story, and I'm a sucker for talking animal stories and always have been. The friendships that form and the love that binds them together is so powerful and tangible. However, so is the cruelty of the man who tries to destroy it, creating page-turning dramatic tension. This book really pulled me in and I felt completely immersed in its world. The writing is suburb and David Small's illustrations are wonderful, as usual.

No comments:

Post a Comment