Peter Høeg 1957–
Danish novelist and short story writer.
The following entry provides an overview of Høeg's career through 1995.
Høeg is primarily known for his novel Frøken Smillas fornemmelse for sne (1992; Smilla's Sense of Snow), which has received widespread critical and popular acclaim and has been published in thirteen countries. In his works, Høeg questions the cultural and political values of modern Denmark, particularly as they relate to the struggle between individuality and societal conformity, values which he believes have detrimental effects on the lives of Danish children. Reviewer Nader Mousavizadeh has stated that "Høeg has brought to modern Danish literature an intensity, a worldliness, a love of language and a depth of learning that entirely on their own have raised the standards for contemporary writing in Denmark."
Born in Denmark in 1957, Høeg worked as a dancer, actor, athlete, and sailor prior to becoming a writer. Reviewer Laura Shapiro quoted Høeg as saying: "I knew all the time, as I was starting other careers, that this was not final, it was a transition, something that would be replaced by something else. I don't have that feeling any longer. One thing that came to me with writing was peace."
Høeg's first novel, Forestilling om det tyvende århundrede (1988; The History of Danish Dreams), covers over four centuries of Danish history through a multi-generational narrative of four families whose descendants are brought together by marriage and chance. In this work, Høeg traces the development of his country from the feudalism of the early 1500s to the post-industrial state of presentday Denmark. Fortællinger om natten (1990) is a collection of stories which examine "love and its conditions on the night of March 19, 1929," focusing on the effects of conformity upon love. Høeg's third work and his first to be translated into English, Smilla's Sense of Snow is the story of Smilla Qaavigaaq Jaspersen, a half-Dane, half-Greenland Inuit glaciologist whose knowledge of snow leads her to question the death of her neighbor and friend, an Eskimo child named Isaiah, who is believed to have fallen from a rooftop. Smilla's journey is not only an investigation into Isaiah's death but is also an exposé of cultural conflict in Denmark. Høeg's novel Da måske egnede (1993; Borderliners) chronicles the story of three unrelated orphans named Peter, Katarina, and August, who meet at a boarding school outside of Copenhagen. The school is renowned for its oppressiveness, and Peter and Katarina, who develop an instant attraction to one another, are aided by the wild and uncontrollable August in devising a scheme to upset the regimented routines the headmaster imposes on the students. Peter, who is eventually adopted by a family named Høeg, tells the story in flashback segments which alternate with discourses regarding the nature of time and the effects of social conformity.
Critical reaction to Høeg's work has been generally positive. While most critics have praised his strong characterizations and suspenseful plotlines, particularly those in Smilla's Sense of Snow, others have faulted his works for what they consider an obsessive attention to details and disjointed narratives. Høeg's ability to make contemporary Danish social issues appealing to a wider, international audience prompted Mousavizadeh to state: "[No] contemporary writer has done more to liberate Danish culture from its ennui than Peter Høeg." While his combination of genres, plots, and themes can produce mixed reactions among readers, Julia Glass noted in a review of Borderliners that Høeg "is persisting on an uncharted course in fiction, using science to elucidate character and add a new dimension to suspense."