Written by Muriel Barbery and translated from the French language, this novel is set in Paris and tells the story of two females, Madame Renee Michel, the middle-aged, unattractive concierge of an upscale apartment building and Paloma Josse, the twelve-year-old daughter of one of the resident families. Although barely aware of one another at first, each hides a secret. Renee is a closet intellectual who lives for her pursuits in philosophy, literature and film. Paloma also is a highly intelligent and perceptive individual who plans to commit suicide by her next birthday, in order to avoid life’s disappointments.
The reader is treated to an analysis of French upper middle-class society, with some of its strengths and many of its weaknesses in full display. Several of the interactions between Renee and her tenants, and between Paloma and her family, are quite humorous.
There is a change in the atmosphere when a new Japanese tenant, Kakuro Ozu, arrives on the scene. He recognizes the qualities of both Renee and Paloma, initiates friendships with them and sets the courses of their lives on different paths.