Smilla's Sense of Snow, by Peter Høeg
Bibliography, Peter Hoeg
- Forestilling om det tyvende århundrede (1988) The History of Danish Dreams
- Fortællinger om natten (Short stories) (1990) Tales of the Night
- Frøken Smillas fornemmelse for sne (1992) Smilla's Sense of Snow
- De måske egnede (1993) Borderliners
- Kvinden og aben (1996) The Woman and The Ape
- Den stille pige (2006) The Quiet Girl
- Elefantpassernes børn (2010)
- Weekendavisens litteraturpris (1988)
- The Glass Key Award from the Crime Writers of Scandinavia (1992) for Smilla's Sense of Snow
- Kritikerprisen (1993)
- Herman Bangs Mindelegat (1993)
- De Gyldne Laurbær (1994)
- Silver Dagger (1994) for Miss Smilla's Sense of Snow
See also our review of the movie Smilla's Sense of Snow (DVD).
(Also known as "Miss Smilla's Feeling For Snow,") this intriguing murder mystery/thriller takes place between Denmark and Greenland. The main protagonist in this story, Smilla Jaspersen, is one of the strongest, most interesting female characters to appear in fiction in a very long time.
The novel is written in the outstanding and very original style of Peter Hoeg, and is also filled with action, suspense, and mystery. It is a novel that stunned literary audencies both in Europe and in the United States when it was published. Smilla's Sense of Snow was selected as "Book of the Year" for 1993 by Time, People, and Entertainment Weekly.
Six year old Isaiah, a Greenlander like Smilla, leaps to his death from the roof of the apartment building in which he lives with his mother. While the boy's body is still warm, the police pronounce that the death is an accident. But Smilla, who lives in the same building and has come to love the little boy as her own, knows her young neighbor didn't fall from the rooftop on his own. She knows that he was very afraid of heights. Also, even though there is only one set of footprints on the roof, she still suspects foul play. And her instincts are supported by her "reading" of the footprints. Knowing most of what there is to know about snow, she is ably to see things other people do not - things which cannot easily be communicated, but which are still read and true.
The motive of her initial investigation lies in the kindred spirit she shares with Isaiah, both having been born in Greenland and then brought to Copenhagen after a parent died. But as she learns more, the more intent she is to find the real answer behind this boy's death.
Her investigations into who killed Isaiah and why he was killed begin in Copenhagen, but eventually lead to an adventure on an ice breaking ship and then to an island in the northern part of Greenland. The ending is very surprising.
Smilla's Sense of Snow is an adventure in the grand tradition, with all the intrigue and occasional scenes of violence and disaster this suggests. It is suspenseful, original, and entertaining. A novel of the kind that only comes along very rarely. I highly recommend it. It's a real page turner.
Other great books by Høeg include The Woman and the Ape: A Novel and The Quiet Girl: A Novel. Order from amazon UK: Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow, The Woman and the Ape (Panther), and The Quiet Girl. You can also by the movie about Smilla: Smilla's Sense of Snow  (REGION 1) (NTSC).
Borderliners, by Peter Hoeg
This was the second of Danish writer Hoeg's novels translated into English (following Smilla's Sense of Snow), and a very different book. It tells the story of a trio of misfits at an elite boarding school who discover they are guinea pigs in a social experiment. The only thing Borderliners has in common with Smilla is that they both are extraordinary novels.
In Borderliners, Hoeg portrays the closed world of Biehl's, a Danish private school also attended by children of the upper classes, in the early 1970s. The narrator, Peter, is a student at Biehl's after spending all of his life in children's homes and reform schools. He is a borderline case.
Peter is a bit psychotic, and wrestles with the demons of anxiety and despair that "the absolutely normal pupils" around him can hardly guess at. He is drawn to Katarina, whose parents both died in the past year. And he feels a need to protect August, who is severely disturbed after killing his abusive parents. Together these three form a little band of misfits. They are “borderliners” because they have academic and social problems.
The three grow closer, Peter falls for Katarina, and they begin struggling, first to reveal the evil they feel is taking place, and then to break free of the strange experiments in social Darwinism being performed at the school.
Peter Hoeg masterfully tells this tale of childhood. And Borderliners may be more than an ordinary novel - there is much evidense suggesting that this is an auto-biographical novel. Peter, the narrator, is 14. Later we learn that he is adopted by a family named Hoeg.
Despite a number of differences, the novel reminds me of another autobiographical novel by a Scandinavian author, namely Evil by Swedish author Jan Guillou. They both describe challenging circumstances encountered in private schools – one in Denmark, the other in Sweden. Both are haunting, to some extent surreal, and quite disturbing.
Borderliners is a wonderful book, at times difficult to read, but very rewarding. It is not nearly as accessible as Smilla’s Sense of Snow, and some of the excursions into the nature of time are hard to follow. But it is a book of considerable beauty, and a book that lingers in your head after you have finished it. At times the book is very moving. An unforgettable story and a worthwhile read!
The Woman and the Ape, by Peter Hoeg
The Woman and the Ape tells the amazing story of a very unforgettable and special couple - Madelene and Erasmus. They are the main characters in Hoeg’s odd and somewhat warped universe in this brilliant novel. Madelene is the wife of Adam Burden, a distinguished behavioral scientist. Erasmus is strange and very intriguing main character – he is a 300 pound ape! He has escaped captivity by smugglers of endangered species, and is an extremely intelligent anthropoid ape, a type of ape that is very close to human beings. As he escapes, Hoeg immediately starts to weave a masterful tale that immediately spellbinds us.
Madelene Burden decides to save Erasmus, and between them blossoms a profound affection as deep as any human relationship. Madelene feels that Erasmus, ''in its stoic helplessness had reminded her of herself.'' This is a great fable for our time, where mankind is evil and the ape noble, and The Woman and the Ape poses searching questions about the nature of love, freedom, and humanity.
Trying to save Erasmus, who turns out to be a very special ape indeed, Madelene escapes with him. The two of them flee through London, ending up in St. Francis Forest, a “pornographic Garden of Eden” within the city walls. But paradise does not last, of course. And as their strange love story progresses we learn much about the adaptability of the ape, and perhaps also about the innermost life of women. If Hoeg is right, we share perhaps more with the apes than we like to think, and therefore may be able to learn much about ourselves from them as well.
The writing in this book is beautiful and very evocative. It is every bit as masterful as that of Smilla’s Sense of Snow. In The Woman and the Ape, Peter Hoeg is humorous, ironic, satirical, lyrical and philosophical. He writes very beautifully, but at the same time raises a number of important and very thought-provoking questions about topics like evolution, civilization versus freedom, and the construction and reconstruction of social identity.
The book is very interesting, well told, has an intriguing and rich plot and an ending with several very surprising elements. I love this book; it is daring and full of unique images and twists. The Woman and the Ape really is a must-read, and a book one does not easily forget.