Høeg, Peter (Vol. 156)
Peter Høeg 1957-
Danish novelist and short story writer.
The following entry presents an overview of Høeg's career through 1998. For further information on his life and works, see CLC, Volume 95.
Høeg is a critically acclaimed and award-winning Danish novelist. Frøken Smillas fornemmelse for sne (1992; Smilla's Sense of Snow), Høeg's most internationally recognized work, has been sold in more than thirty countries. Critics have likened Høeg's works to those of such authors as Jules Verne, Jorge Luis Borges, and Italo Calvino.
Høeg was born May 17, 1957, in Copenhagen, Denmark. His father, a lawyer, and his mother, a Latin teacher, raised Høeg and his siblings in an intellectual, middle-class environment. Høeg graduated from Frederiksberg Gymnasium in 1976 and then attended the University of Copenhagen. In 1984 he earned a Master's Degree in Comparative Literature. Høeg then embarked on a series of career choices that moved him away from the intellectual world and academia. He spent time as a mountaineer, a professional dancer for the Royal Danish Ballet, and as a crew member on pleasure boats. It was during a boating trip that Høeg developed an idea which would become Forestilling om det tyvende århundrede (1988). In 1995 this work was translated into English as The History of Danish Dreams. Høeg's penchant for travel and adventure is often highlighted during his rare public performances, where he has been known to entertain audiences with tales of mountain climbing and visits to Kenya. Høeg met his wife, Akinyi, who is a member of the Kenyan Luo tribe, while visiting in Kenya. In 1996 Høeg established the Lolwe Foundation to provide aid to women and children from the Third World. The word “lolwe” is from the language of the Luo tribe (called Dhu-luo) and is used to describe the infinite space where lake meets the sky to the west. Høeg donated all the proceeds from his novel Kvinden og aben (1996; The Woman and the Ape) to the Lolwe foundation.
The History of Danish Dreams, narrated by the central character named Mads, begins near the year 1520 and progresses through four centuries and four generations. Mads is a member of the last generation and the novel focuses on Mads's recounting of dreams he receives from his ancestors. The novel is written in the style of magical realism and includes themes that are also examined in many of Høeg's later works. These themes include the representation of time, both physical and symbolic, social class, the battle between the individual and society, and the mistreatment of children. The book is divided into three sections, with each section covering the lives of one generation. The narrative examines the history of four families who intermarry as the sections progress, until all four families are joined as one. The four families represent four different social classes of Danish society; the main character from each class is a thief, an aristocrat, a priest, and a newspaper publisher, respectively. Covering such widely varying characters and economic backgrounds enabled Høeg to provide social commentary and criticism of Danish culture. Høeg published a collection of short stories, Fortœllinger om natten, in 1990. This work was translated into English in 1998 as Tales of the Night. The stories are set during the year 1929 and focus on a particular day, March 19. Each deals with a different character who is undergoing a traumatic change in life. Smilla's Sense of Snow marked a departure for Høeg in that it is a mystery, but the book retained many common themes that mark much of Høeg's work—magical realism, a focus on child welfare, and a critical look at Danish society. The narrator, Smilla, exhibits traits unusual for a character in a detective genre book: she is most at ease alone or when discussing mathematics, and she is an expert on glacial morphology. It is this skill which leads her to believe that her neighbor and closest friend, an Inuit boy named Isaiah, has been murdered. Isaiah's death has been attributed to an accidental fall from a rooftop, but Smilla suspects foul play. As the novel progresses, Høeg discusses ethnic tensions present within Danish society (Smilla is half Danish, half Inuit, and never feels comfortable within the Danish culture), as well as the exploitation of Greenland and its native population by Danes. De måske egnede was published in 1993 and translated into English as Borderliners in 1994. The novel is told through the eyes of Peter, an orphan who recounts his childhood experiences at a boarding school engaged in an experiment in Social Darwinism. Failure to conform to the headmaster's standards equates to a failure to conform in Danish society and to being banished to the lower rung of the class system. Peter is joined at the Academy by Katarina and August, each from a different social background, and the three characters ally themselves in an effort to destroy the rigid hierarchy that the Academy enforces. The narrator of The Woman and the Ape, Madeline, who has been compared to Smilla in Smilla's Sense of Snow, as both characters are solitary scientists, embarks on a love affair with a highly intelligent talking ape named Erasmus. She frees Erasmus from his bonds as the subject of scientific experimentation, and in turn Erasmus frees Madeline from her unhappy marriage and addiction to alcohol.
The History of Danish Dreams received a largely positive European critical response. Many Danish critics labeled the book a “significant novel debut of the 1980s,” but reviews of the English translation were mixed: reviewers either felt that Høeg's social commentary was too clever or faulted the author for using characters who were too one-dimensional. Tales of the Night received praise for its clever descriptions of the passage of time and its effective character development. Nader Mousavizadeh asserted: “Høeg illuminates the political and the cultural through the prism of small, intimate lives of no apparent consequence, simultaneously elevating and denigrating, mocking the grand and dignifying the petty.” Smilla's Sense of Snow generally received positive reviews from both European and American critics. Many reviewers characterized the book as an “anti-colonial thriller” and praised Høeg's reinventing the mystery genre with his unique prose, rendering of Smilla, and introduction of magical realism. Negative comments focused on the conclusion, which left many questions unanswered and which critics felt drifted into the realm of science fiction and away from the murder mystery genre. Borderliners received generally unfavorable response from American critics. Some reviewers were disappointed with Høeg's return to the passage of time as a theme, feeling it detracted from the plot line. European reaction to the book was also mixed, with initial reviews being generally positive but later comments turning negative. Erik Skyum-Nielsen referred to the novel's treatment of human rationality as “pompous” and called the novel overrated. The negative European reviews of Borderliners also initiated debate about Høeg's political aims. The Woman and the Ape was faulted by critics as a simple recycling of Edgar Rice Burroughs's Tarzan stories. Danish critics argued that the novel was too preachy and that the examination of the animal rights issue within the book overrode the plotline. Constant comparison to Smilla's Sense of Snow diminished further positive American reviews for The Woman and the Ape, which was also labeled a mystery. The negative criticism for The Woman and the Ape helped to create a backlash against Høeg with some critics concluding that the author had reached his creative peak with Smilla's Sense of Snow.
Forestilling om det tyvende århundrede [The History of Danish Dreams] (novel) 1988
Fortœllinger om natten [Tales of the Night] (short stories) 1990
*Frøken Smillas fornemmelse for sne [Smilla's Sense of Snow] (novel) 1992
De måske egnede [Borderliners] (novel) 1993
Kvinden og aben [The Woman and the Ape] (novel) 1996
*This work was published under the title Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow in the United Kingdom.
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SOURCE: Smiley, Jane. “In Distant Lands of Ice and Sun.” Washington Post Book World 23, no. 43 (24 October 1993): 1, 11.
[In the following positive review, Smiley applauds Høeg's redevelopment of the mystery genre in Smilla's Sense of Snow.]
It's not hard to tell that Peter Høeg, the Danish author of Smilla's Sense of Snow, has been, among other things, a mountaineer, an actor and a sailor. The novel, his first to be translated into English, is bursting with hows—how arctic ice is formed; how to get to Greenland from Denmark by ship; how the Inuit world view, i.e., that of the Eskimos of North America and Greenland, differs from the European; how to swim in freezing water and survive; how to win the confidence of lifelong employees of a powerful and vindictive corporation; how the shipping industry works. In fact, one thing that Smilla's Sense of Snow reminds me is that “How?” is fiction's essential question, one that the earliest picaresque novels asked most directly: How does the traveler get where he or she is going? Yet every novel explores over and over the relationship between a character and what happens to him or her: How the character acts and reacts, who he or she is, far outweighs, in importance and interest, any climax.
Smilla's Sense of Snow happens to be a thriller, a genre that seeks to explore the mysteries of social good and evil, but...
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SOURCE: Leithauser, Brad. “Thrills and Chills.” New Republic 209, no. 4111 (1 November 1993): 39–41.
[In the following review, Leithhauser offers a generally positive assessment of Smilla's Sense of Snow, despite the protagonist's “professorial” narration style.]
So many other puzzles beset the reader of Smilla's Sense of Snow that, adrift in its mazes, you almost forget to ask, What type of novel is this? It is a mystery? A techno-thriller? Some mutant species of science fiction? The publishers bill it as a simple thriller, albeit with an exotic setting; they compare it to Gorky Park. If a thriller is what it is, it's the best one I've read in years. And yet, in the attention that it lavishes on peripheral characters who advance the plot only incrementally, in the focus that it places on philosophical questions and in the ultimate indifference that it shows the loose ends of its narrative, the book pays little heed to the conventions of the thriller. Whatever else it may be, Smilla's Sense of Snow is the record of a search—one of the oddest and most beguiling journeys I've come across in contemporary fiction.
Like the story she tells, the heroine is a heterogeneous blend. Her name is Smilla Qaavigaaq Jaspersen. Her father is a Danish anesthesiologist of international reputation. Years before, while doing medical research in Greenland, he met and...
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SOURCE: Høeg, Peter and Karina Porcelli. “Overnight Success: Peter's Sense of Fiction.” Scandinavian Review 82, no. 1 (spring 1994): 19–22.
[In the following interview, Høeg discusses his career and the popular success of Smilla's Sense of Snow.]
Peter Høeg is not a man of appearances. The 36-year-old Danish author arrives at an appointment via bicycle—not a mountain bike, not a racing bike—but an old, black bike with a plastic bag wrapped around the seat. The number of gears is inconsequential. This is what is important: to spin through the streets of Copenhagen.
For the most popular Danish novelist since Isak Dinesen, discriminating between the essential and the extraneous is important. Especially these days. In his native Denmark, his thriller, Smilla's Sense of Snow, is a runaway best-seller, and he is a frequent, though reticent front-page celebrity. Internationally, his critically acclaimed novel is being launched in 17 countries, and is spawning obsessive doodads like “I Love Smilla” buttons in London book shops. In the U.S. Smilla's Sense of Snow, published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux, is set for a fourth printing, and is inching its way up best-seller lists—a remarkable achievement for an unknown Scandinavian author who rides an old black bike and revels in anonymity. A big-budget movie, to be directed by fellow Dane Bille August, is also in...
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SOURCE: Frank, Jeffrey. “Prisoners of Time and Chance.” Washington Post Book World 24, no. 50 (11 December 1994): 9.
[In the following review, Frank offers a mixed assessment of Borderliners, lamenting the novel's poor translation into English.]
The narrator of Peter Høeg's puzzling and artful Borderliners is someone named Peter Høeg. This Peter Høeg may or may not be the same person as the author, but both are drawn to the mysteries of time—linear time and circular, from the apparent simplicities of childhood to the physics of Newton, Einstein and Hawking. Both Høegs also try to understand the meaning of a “special” Danish private school and how it once affected the lives of three young students. Ultimately, both Høegs try to grasp something elusive about modern Denmark.
Peter Høeg became widely known in America when Smilla's Sense of Snow appeared last year in English. Borderliners, like the earlier work, is mysterious and engaging but rather than a murder mystery set partly in Greenland, it is a more abstract sort of mystery set in an institution, Biehl's Academy for mostly gifted children. Some of the students, though, are borderline kids—“the perhaps suited,” in the more literal translation of the book's Danish title, De måske egnede.
Perhaps suited, indeed! None of the novel's young protagonists seems...
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SOURCE: Glass, Julia. “Peter Høeg's New Tale of Time, Trauma and Character.” Chicago Tribune Books 148, no. 1 (1 January 1995): 3, 7.
[In the following positive review of Borderliners, Glass explores Høeg's recurring themes of time, child neglect, and parenthood.]
The narrator of Borderliners, Peter Høeg's new novel, is a man whose lifelong obsession with time—its history, physics and meaning—frames his account of a childhood trauma that nearly destroyed his life. In this brooding, austere tale, set in a state-run orphanage and a prosperous private school, we witness the subtle tyranny of adults and its consequences, both real and imagined, through the eyes of the pupils and wards.
That the dissection and manipulation of time should dominate a story by Høeg will come as no surprise to fans of his previous novel, Smilla's Sense of Snow, a haunting thriller with an extravagant plot, a large cast of characters—all memorable—and a rich accretion of geographic and medical lore that might have fleshed out half a dozen books.
Høeg asserted impressive control over the suspense of that narrative—praised for its transcendence of genre—through an unorthodox use of chronology, often withholding crucial events for an agonizing length of time or pushing the reader to and fro, almost capriciously, within a space of hours or even minutes....
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SOURCE: Andersen, Tina Lund. Review of Borderliners, by Peter Høeg. Europe, no. 345 (April 1995): 27.
[In the following review, Andersen compares Smilla's Sense of Snow to Borderliners, noting Høeg's use of time as a plot device.]
As a follow-up to the internationally successful Smilla's Sense of Snow, Peter Høeg shows us his sense of time, irony, and brutal detail in his newest work, Borderliners.
The Danish author first broke into the American consciousness with the hugely successful Smilla, published in 1993 and now being made into a movie by fellow Dane Bille August. At age 37, Høeg has been around the vocational landscape, working as a dancer, an actor, a sailor, and a mountain climber. Borderliners is his fourth work of fiction and a departure from the action-packed Smilla.
This modern Danish Dickens tale is set at an exclusive private school outside Copenhagen whose headmaster, Mr. Biehl, rules with an iron fist. Life at Biehl's Academy is strictly regimented and permeated with fear. Any behavior that does not dovetail with the school's mission, from drawing outside the lines to getting out of one's seat without permission, is severely punished. The narrator, Peter, has been admitted, despite his “average (borderline) intelligence” and orphan status, as part of an experiment. The story centers...
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SOURCE: Mousavizadeh, Nader. Review of Borderliners, by Peter Høeg. New Republic 212, no. 14 (3 April 1995): 39–41.
[In the following review, Mousavizadeh offers a positive assessment of Borderliners.]
“With the knife of light they would scrape the darkness clean,” observes the young narrator of Borderliners, who languishes in the private boarding school that is the setting for Peter Høeg's new novel. Barely a teenager, barely sane, he speaks of the zealotry of his superiors, of the cruelty of best intentions, with the weariness of an old man. Høeg's novel is the story of three children whose shattered lives merge at the center of an educational experiment that seeks to socialize the abandoned and the most alone—the story of the real consequences of an unimpeachably enlightened social policy. But the cause of these children is a lost cause. They want no part of a community that wants no part of them; and their unwillingness to abide by rules whose rewards they have never known sets the stage for a reckoning of quiet magnitude—between the child and the adult, between the unique and the uniform, between doubt and certainty.
The author of Borderliners is, of course, also the author of Smilla's Sense of Snow. Smilla, Høeg's third book, was his first to be translated into English, and introduced him as a brilliant and intriguing writer of...
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SOURCE: Bradley, John R. “Time and Time Again.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 4802 (14 April 1995): 20.
[In the following review of Borderliners, Bradley examines the influences of Charles Darwin, Samuel Beckett, and Marcel Proust on the novel.]
Borderliners is published in the wake of the huge success of Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow (1993). The first book was a whodunit, while Borderliners is an intense psychological study of the self, but there are similarities between the two novels which point to Peter Høeg's central, recurring themes. Both narrators are social outsiders; both have an inveterate hatred of all forms of authority; and both are obsessed by vulnerable and victimized children. The difference in treatment of this last theme accounts for the difference in genre. Miss Smilla undergoes a geographical journey to search for the cause of the untimely death of her child companion. Peter, the narrator of Borderliners, is writing a book based on his twenty-year-old memories of the events which led to the death of his friend at their oppressive boarding-school. He intends to hand it over to his former headmaster, Biehl, who is now old, lonely and vulnerable.
At the school, Peter's co-conspirators were Katarina, a fiercely intelligent older girl, and August, a younger boy, physically and emotionally fragile but intellectually mature. Peter,...
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SOURCE: Unsworth, Barry. “School of Thought.” Spectator 274, no. 8701 (15 April 1995): 36–37.
[In the following review, Unsworth offers a negative assessment of Borderliners, and accuses Høeg of sacrificing the novel's plot in order to make a political statement.]
I don't know if there are many people who really think, when they look back at things, that schooldays are the happiest of one's life. Certainly [Borderliners] deals a lethal blow to the adage. The school in question here is an experimental private one called Biehl's Academy and among the pupils are three emotionally damaged children, the borderliners of the title, who have been sent there for assessment. Will they prove able to adjust to ‘normal’ school life or will it be necessary to relegate them to special institutions for the retarded or disturbed?
The irony—and the peculiar horror—derive from the fact that this school, for which they must prove their suitability, is a place of pervasive terror and oppression. Biehl himself is a sort of perverted idealist who believes in leading his charges to the light by systematically humiliating and abasing them and who uses all forms of violence in the process, from the subtlest to the most brutal. His staff are specially selected for their understanding of the psychology of control. The account of what befalls the children, told in the words of one of...
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SOURCE: Irwin, Robert. “Northern Exposure.” Washington Post Book World 25, no. 40 (1 October 1995): 4.
[In the following review, Irwin discusses the qualities of magical realism in The History of Danish Dreams, drawing comparisons to Latino-American novelists Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Isabel Allende.]
The History of Danish Dreams is a novel in the international weird genre—or magical realism, as that sort of thing is better known. Høeg's first novel to have been published in English, in 1993, was Smilla's Sense of Snow. This was a splendidly unusual, if rather chilly, thriller, which richly deserved the best-seller status it achieved. Smilla, a touchy but tough spinster from Greenland, with a remarkable expertise concerning different types of snow, was its improbable yet wholly convincing protagonist. The following year saw the publication of the English version of Borderliners, a rather austere parable about the attempt of a trio of emotionally borderline children to escape from the sinister educational institution in which they are trapped. The History of Danish Dreams, the most recent of Høeg's fictions to appear in America, is actually his first book. (It was published in Denmark in 1988.)
Høeg's novel is a kind of multi-generation dynastic saga, which traces the history of Denmark by chronicling the absurd adventures of successive...
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SOURCE: Leonard, John. “Children of the Panopticon.” Nation 261, no. 17 (20 November 1995): 642–45.
[In the following review, Leonard explores the theme of child abuse in The History of Danish Dreams and Borderliners.]
You have to work hard to find Kierkegaard in the city where he died, of fear and trembling, at age 42. There's a single room devoted to his memory (letters, snapshots, book jackets, pipe), upstairs at the Kobenhavns Bymuseum. Whereas they will haul you by air-conditioned bus all over Copenhagen on a daylong tour of the habitats and artifacts of Kierkegaard's contemporary, Hans Christian Andersen, ending with a visit to a statue of the Little Mermaid. At the statue you will be told that Hans was his own imaginary mermaid, as well as an Ugly Duckling.
In 1964, vandals decapitated the Little Mermaid. That severed head is still missing. Until recently, I had imagined that some Soren cult had done this dirty deed, disgusted with a feel-good Denmark of blond heads drinking blond beer and licking blond ice cream cones. Or maybe if you didn't think blond thoughts they cut off your head. I'm now persuaded that Peter Høeg was somehow responsible. He was 7 years old in 1964, but his novels are full of feral children, of wild things on the run, of lost boys like Adonis in The History of Danish Dreams, “the forsaken youngest son of the fairy tales who must now...
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SOURCE: Whittaker, Peter. “Scintillating Sage.” New Statesman & Society 9, no. 384 (5 January 1996): 41.
[In the following review, Whittaker examines Høeg's use of dream imagery and portrayal of children in The History of Danish Dreams.]
Following the surprise success of his meditative thriller Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow and the critical acclaim for Borderliners, the word was that Peter Høeg's first novel—published in Denmark in 1988—was something special. With Harvill's new translation, we have a chance to see if the rumours were correct. The History of Danish Dreams is indeed an astonishingly mature debut. Tracing 400 years of Danish history through the interwoven generations of four families—the Laurids, Baks, Teanders and Jensens—it spans cultural and class divides as well as years with fantastical leaps and swoops.
We begin on the estate of the Morkhoj, where the mad Count (convinced the centre of the world is located on his land) stops the clocks and outlaws time in a doomed attempt to prevent change. Despite his best efforts, the walls of feudalism are finally breached and the 20th century begins, under the control of a hard and rapacious mercantile class. Personifying this class are Carl Laurids, born on New Year's eve 1900, and his son Carsten, who is willing to sell anything or anybody to get to the top.
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SOURCE: Von Bülow, Claus. “Before the Snow Came.” Spectator 275, no. 8738 (6 January 1996): 32.
[In the following review of The History of Danish Dreams, Von Bülow compares Høeg to Hans Christian Andersen.]
Students of the best-seller lists will recognise Peter Høeg as the author of Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow, a brilliant Arctic murder story with a strong dose of philosophical meditation. Høeg followed this with Borderliners, a story about three children, who have been judged mentally incompetent by the State, and their attempts to escape the regimentation of an experimental school. More gloomy Northern philosophy.
We are now offered the English translation of Høeg's first novel, [The History of Danish Dreams,] which is in fact a number of separate stories, or dreams in ‘virtual reality,’ whose characters and events overlap and touch each other in spite of the different eras and social strata described. The first story is about an eccentric Danish Count (are there any others?) who surrounds his estate with a high wall, abolishes the passage of time, and claims to have the centre of the earth as his demesne. Høeg's compatriot, Karen Blixen, would have liked this character, a mad version of Tycho Brahe, the great astronomer, who, after losing his nose in a duel, replaced it with one in silver. In the next story we move to the nouveaux...
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SOURCE: Binding, Paul. “Family Failings.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 4842 (19 January 1996): 26.
[In the following review, Binding discusses the narrator of The History of Danish Dreams and the familial bonds that are prevalent throughout the novel.]
Only on the very last page of Peter Høeg's first novel, The History of Danish Dreams (which was originally published in 1988), do readers learn the identity of the “I” who has periodically made authorial intrusions into the narrative—explaining the difficulties of assembling material, pointing out the general significance of the particular people and events. This “I” is Mads, the descendant of every person we have significantly engaged with in this long, many-stranded account of the twentieth century in Denmark. The disclosure brings about in us an immediate revaluation of the histories we have been following; and we realize that what we have received as objective pictures have a subjective resonance that we cannot dismiss. These people and events are all part of Mads's being, and therefore, by imaginative extension, of our own.
Like his grandfather, Carl Laurids, with whose story this demanding and enthralling novel opens, Mads Mahogni was born on New Year's Eve, and this has an unashamedly symbolic status. It is reinforced by the fact that he bears a marked resemblance to Peter Høeg: they share a...
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SOURCE: Malin, Irving. Review of The History of Danish Dreams, by Peter Høeg. Review of Contemporary Fiction 16, no. 2 (summer 1996): 159–60.
[In the following review, Malin discusses time, the use of dreams, and the concept of history in The History of Danish Dreams.]
I admire this intriguing novel. [The History of Danish Dreams] is a challenging text because it apparently questions the very notion of its form. If we look closely at the title we are startled by the concepts of “history” and “dreams.” Some of the questions the title suggests are the following: Is “history”—or the past—a “dream”? How can one write a “history of dreams” in chronological order? Is the historian dreaming the Danish dreams? The text begins with a foreword written by a narrator, a historian who claims that he made his text as “simple” as he could. He then mentions two mysterious, cryptic incidents. One describes Carsten and his father in 1929. The father, Carl, is assembling a machine gun in his living room. “The weapon pointed, with the most liberating determination, into the hazy future.” The historian notes the enigmatic scene. Why does Carl construct a gun in the room? The historian then goes on to describe a scene occurring at the same time. Anna watches her mother's obsessive cleaning of the room, trying to attack all the dirt.
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SOURCE: Möller, Hans Henrik. “Peter Høeg or the Sense of Writing.” Scandinavian Studies 69, no. 1 (winter 1997): 29–51.
[In the following essay, Möller examines Høeg's career, focusing on how his works relate to society and how society relates back to Høeg.]
The word “Pastiche” is derived from the Italian “pasticcio,” meaning “pie” made originally of the left-overs from the day before. In a culinary as well as a literary context, pastiche is a radical illustration of the precept that there is nothing new under the sun. Pastiche is the postmodern reflection of lost aspirations for originality—the vanishing savor of what was served for dinner last night. Pastiche and copy have become emblems of a truth no longer visible which they have replaced. They tell the story of this truth, but only its absence.
Pastiche binds Peter Høeg's writing to the literary past: his books and stories are replete with traces of Karen Blixen, Joseph Conrad, and other great and well known authors. It links his growing oeuvre to postmodern écriture: in the absence of major tales, fragments of truth situated in the microcosmic ruins of the fallen empire of modernity are the only hope.1 Pastiche is, moreover, an exploration of time and the act of storytelling, of refinding and renewal. The first is linear, ongoing, and finite with death and desire as its final and formal...
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SOURCE: Norseng, Mary Kay. “A House of Mourning.” Scandinavian Studies 69, no. 1 (winter 1997): 52–83.
[In the following essay, Norseng discusses the presence of children in Smilla's Sense of Snow.]
“Our house was the house of mourning. … Elizabeth was sad and desponding. … The first of these sorrows which are sent to wean us from the earth, had visited her, and its dimming influences quenched her dearest smiles.”
“Who can follow an animal which can traverse the sea of ice, and inhabit caves and dens where no man would venture to intrude?”
As Frøken Smillas fornemmelse for sne [Smilla's Sense of Snow] begins to end, if never to resolve itself, Smilla Qaavigaaq Jaspersen sets sail for an arctic sea far, far away. In that sea lies an island; on that island there is a glacial cathedral; in that cathedral there is a lake; in that lake there is a black stone; in that stone there is a worm. “Mennesker venter på denne sten. Deres tro og forventning vil gøre den virkelig. Vil gøre den levende, uanset hvordan det ellers forholder sig med den” (429) [“People are waiting for this stone. Their belief and anticipation will make it real. They will make it alive regardless of the true nature of the...
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SOURCE: Alessio, Carolyn. “Simian Savior.” Chicago Tribune Books (5 January 1997): 2.
[In the following review, Alessio explores the theme of colonialism in The Woman and the Ape.]
To paraphrase Jane Austen, a man in possession of an ape must keep an eye on his wife. In Peter Høeg's wry new novel. The Woman and the Ape. the wife of a British behavioral scientist runs off with his prized subject, an ape named Erasmus.
At once a satire and cautionary tale, The Woman and the Ape examines the reckless ambition that sometimes accompanies modern behavioral science and animal-rights activism. At the center of the novel lurks Erasmus, an unknown breed of ape with suspicious qualities that extend far beyond his uncannily humanlike dental records. He lands in London after escaping from the Ark, a ship that was transporting him as a captive from and to sites that are undisclosed.
Dubbed Erasmus after the Dutch-born 16th Century humanist and author of The Praise of Folly, the ape both educates and seduces. In addition to befuddling zoologists and animal-rights activists, he bewitches Madelene, the acutely alcoholic Danish wife of eminent scientist Adam Burden.
Even in Madelene's first, wordless encounter with the ape, it's clear that Erasmus can offer her more consideration than her distracted husband. Madelene discovers the ape...
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SOURCE: Fodor, Jerry. “Bottoms Again.” London Review of Books 19, no. 12 (19 June 1997): 21.
[In the following negative review, Fodor compares The Woman and the Ape to Will Self's Great Apes, discussing the elements of allegory and the animal imagery in each.]
Archimedes thought that he could move the world if only he could get outside of it, and the same idea inspires writers in the transcendental genre of fiction. Find some place sufficiently far out and put your fulcrum there. The leverage you achieve will lend authority to your voice. Both these books hope that higher primates will supply the required pivot. The Woman and the Ape looks up to them for moral edification; Great Apes looks down on them for comic relief. Each is, in its own way, amply unsuccessful.
Peter Høeg's Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow made a stir a couple of years ago. Its plot was muddled, but it did have an ingratiating heroine and lots of ethnic local colour; and things happened too fast for you to think about them much. It was a good enough book for a read in the bathtub, or to make into a movie. The Woman and the Ape, however, is simply a disaster.
Imagine the situation in Lady Chatterly's Lover: the husband frigid, the wife discontented, the boyfriend an outsider, but sensitive and virile. With, however, this difference: the Mellors...
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SOURCE: Miller, D. Quentin. “The Woman and the Ape.” Review of Contemporary Fiction 17, no. 2 (summer 1997): 273–74.
[In the following review, Miller focuses on the interchangeability of Madeline and Erasmus in The Woman and the Ape.]
Peter Høeg's fourth novel defies easy categorization. It is at once a tale of personal strength, a love story, and an ecological morality tale. To choose one of these or any other conventional label to describe The Woman and the Ape is to ignore its obvious unconventionality; for the personal strength comes from a woman so severely alcoholic that she seems beyond repair, the love story is between a woman and a primate, and the environmental lesson is delivered as an eloquent speech by an ape who seems more an extraterrestrial envoy from the future than an evolutionary mistake from the past.
One could begin by describing it as an imaginative exodus into the soul of contemporary London. Høeg paints London as the vital center of the modern civilized world, but it is also, “one of the largest habitats for nonhuman creatures on this earth.” Most of these creatures—mice, seagulls, insects—are beneath everyday notice, but one arrives unexpectedly to call attention to the manifold problems that humanity has created. Erasmus, the ape of the title, crosses the thin line between his own species and ours in order to make us aware...
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SOURCE: Knight, Stephen. “In Tales within Tales.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 4939 (28 November 1997): 23.
[In the following review, Knight discusses Høeg's attention to detail in Tales of the Night but finds that the level of detail detracts from the flow of the storyline.]
In “The Verdict of the Right Honourable Ignatio Landstad Rasker, Lord Chief Justice,” Peter Høeg patiently uncovers the secret that has riven an eminent Danish family. On his son's wedding day, the homophobic, lugubrious Hektor recounts the events of twenty-two years earlier, when the family's ordered world was wrecked by the decision of his father, Ignatio, to abscond with a Wildean novelist imprisoned for offences against public decency. While its account of a man “straight-backed and crystal clear and deep as a well” gradually discovering his true nature is undoubtedly poignant, the triumph of the piece is its structure. Used throughout Tales of the Night, the device of stories within stories is here extended until Høeg creates the literary equivalent of a matrioshka doll, perfectly suited to a tale with “a core of mysterious grief,” in which Ignatio's repressed homosexuality is sublimated in his hobby of ships in bottles, described by Hektor as “odd, solidified bubbles surrounding something flighty and tawdry.” So the Lord Chief Justice's testimony (which itself includes a tale told to...
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SOURCE: Dunn, Katherine. “In the Gothic Mode.” Washington Post Book World 28, no. 17 (26 April 1998): 4.
[In the following review, Dunn explores Høeg's use of historical characters and attention to time as a motif in Tales of the Night.]
The Danish writer Peter Høeg made an explosive American debut in 1993 with his suspenseful literary thriller Smilla's Sense of Snow. The title character, Smilla Jasperson, is a remarkable female protagonist whose complex power is revealed in a lush layering of action, dialogue, image and flashback. The book's core gravity is her passionate intelligence as a scientific expert on the subject of ice and snow. The peculiar nature of frozen water is an extended metaphor forming the crystalline structure of the entire book. It is the cause, the effect and the tool that detects the connection. Also ranging through the narrative are mountains of information on a dozen exotic topics—survival techniques of Greenland's indigenous peoples, Thai cooking secrets, intimate details of ship construction, and so on. This hyper-dense information isn't gratuitous. It is a surgical penetration of the expert characters who deliver it, and integral to the weave of the mesmerizing story.
Høeg's newest work to hit U.S. shores is an intriguing collection of short stories titled Tales of the Night. Described by the publisher as the author's second book,...
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Eberstadt, Fernanda. “Northern Light.” New Yorker 69, no. 30 (20 September 1993): 118–19.
Eberstadt discusses the role of paternity in Smilla's Sense of Snow.
Eder, Richard. “They Have Twenty-Three Words for It.” Los Angeles Times Book Review (26 September 1993): 3.
Eder compares Høeg's Smilla's Sense of Snow to the works of John le Carré.
———. “Time Never Stops.” Los Angeles Times Book Review (6 November 1994): 3.
Eder discusses Høeg's theme of child abuse in Borderliners.
Koenig, Rhoda. “In Very Cold Blood.” New York 26, no. 37 (20 September 1993): 66.
Koenig offers a positive assessment of Smilla's Sense of Snow and discusses its expansion into a series.
———. “The Peter Principle.” Vogue 186, no. 12 (December 1996): 188.
Koenig discusses Høeg's opinions on life in Africa compared to life in Denmark in this review of The Woman and the Ape.
McCue, Jim. “Arctic Nights.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 1993 (17 September 1993): 20.
McCue explores issues of discomfort in Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow.
Meyer, Michael. “Danger: Thin Ice.” New York Review of Books...
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