I just finished a remarkable novel – Muriel Barbery’s The Elegance of the Hedgehog, as translated by Alison Anderson. Simultaneously postmodern and a manifesto against empty postmodernism, the book examines the lives of Renée, a 50-something concierge at a Parisian apartment building and Paloma, the nearly 13-year-old daughter of one of the tenants. Renée is more intelligent and cultured than the tenants suspect, though she goes to great lengths to hide this. Paloma feels that she can’t handle the ordinariness of her life and decides that on her 13th birthday, she is going to do something drastic. An older Japanese man who moves in to a recently vacated apartment both reaffirms and upends their beliefs about culture and beauty.

Few books go to the heart of the human condition so effectively. It’s not without flaws (Paloma loves the aphorism, and her thoughts are skewed accordingly), but it is absolutely worth reading.