Just moments ago I finished The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery. I kind of want to rest for a while and read it again. I have been traveling quite a lot for the past two weeks and read this in a disjointed way. Even all broken up it is a powerful story.
It was originally written in French. (Which I hope to be able to read some day.) Translations make me nervous, because some are just so poorly done that "lost in translation" does not come close. I used to teach Madame Bovary by Gustav Flaubert to 12th graders and if they did not pay attention to the syllabus and buy the Francis Steegmuller translation they were reading an entirely different novel, devoid of Flaubert's beautiful words. (Books whose language is as enthralling as its story is irresistible, which is why The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne is my favorite book of all time. I am as drawn in by the language as the story.) I think the beauty of the writing confirms that the translation is excellent and Barbery's prose lovely.
I am not a particularly snobby reader, but The Elegance of the Hedgehog is literature, not genre fiction. It is the story of Renee, the concierge of an up-scale apartment building in Paris and Paloma, a twelve-year-old resident. Renee is a closet intellect and Paloma is a closet depressive. Both are brilliant and much of the beauty of the book comes from their ruminations. The humor comes from their interactions with other, less observant and introspective residents. I love novels that are character rather than plot driven, though I was endlessly wondering what would happen next, so there was still plenty going on to keep it from being a character sketch rather than a story.
Barbery has another novel, Gourmet Rhapsody, that takes place in the same building, before the time of this one, featuring a character who is minor to Hedgehog. I am tempted to jump in immediately, but this is an author I want to savor.
If you like summer reading that is heavier than a beach read, or are ready to begin fall reading, I would start with either of these two.