I started off the book excited. I didn't mind the philosophical and literary allusions peppered throughout. I read a lot of classic literature, and this technique can be taken over the top by some well know 18th century authors, so Barbery stayed well within the acceptable confines of just enough.
However, as the book progressed, it flat-lined. It got me to thinking about Barbery's few Proust references in the beginning. You know, an author's way of saying 'hey, look at me, I'm educated! I'm smart!" In my opinion, simply name-dropping Proust is rather pretentious. And this got me to thinking even more.
Yes, Paloma is unbelievable. I could have happily accepted this book as surreal, yet Barbery desperately attempts to prove throughout the whole novel that this character is indeed real and developed. It grated on me to no end. It was like she was holding back on the reins, keeping her characters in a cage because she wanted it to be so incredibly real.
Additionally, there were parts when I felt that Barbery's own voice was too strong - that it took over the voice of Renee and Paloma's character. To me, it seemed like she used them as sounding boards for her own preferences and ideas, rather than letting the characters take them on their own.
Because there is little actual story, the book depends on its characters. Paloma is unreal, Renee is quite likeable, and Mr. Ozu comes off as a bit strange (am I the only one that got that vibe?). The ending made me angry. Personally that specific ending is one of my biggest annoyances in movies and books. If something ends in that specific way, it ruins my like for the entire work.