The New Yorker: "two autodidacts share an allergy to grammatical errors . . . and a love of tea and moments of ineffable beauty."
Date: Oct 13 2008
In this supple novel of ideas, a best-seller in France, the unschooled middle-aged concierge of an upper-class Paris apartment building acts like a stereotypical concierge, leaving the television on all day and sharing her quarters with an old, fat cat, but she secretly consumes vast quantities of literature. A few floors above her, the brilliant and prematurely disillusioned twelve-year-old daughter of a “holier-than-thou-left-wing-intellectual” family is planning arson and suicide, unless she can find something worth living for beyond the “vacuousness of bourgeois existence.” Unbeknown to each other, the two autodidacts share an allergy to grammatical errors (the concierge considers a misplaced comma an “underhanded attack”) and a love of tea and moments of ineffable beauty. Barbery’s sly wit, which bestows lightness on the most ponderous cogitations, keeps her tale aloft.