Peter Høeg has a new book out, that has been heavily featured in Danish news papers lately. However I had an old copy of this book on my shelf from my parent’s house. Reading this book was a nostalgic swell of memories from growing up in a 90’s Danish household, from remembering pay phones and imagining all the characters dressed in 90’s fashion. The book became very vivid simply because it was a reminder of a recent past, of seeing the book on my parents’ bookshelf and feeling a kinship with this author whose unique last name was so similar to my own.
The book starts with an unsolved question; a child has died and there is reason to believe it wasn’t an accident. Smilla was friends with this child, bound my a common inuit-heritage; children of Greenland now exiled to the a dreary Copenhagen. While the book does an excellent job of exploring this mystery it mainly works as prose due to the main character of Smilla. We do not solely explore the mystery, we explore what it is like to be her; an intelligent misfit isolated from society. She carries the story in the bonds she shapes with other characters, in letting herself nuture the bonds and break them if necessary. There is much scientific language in the book as part of the mystery, but it further supports in shaping her as a character – we see the world as analytical as she does; when she is in love she allows herself 30 minutes at night to think of him – cutting herself of if she starts to miss him and pine for him too much.
The language is often moving and unexpected, filled with large images that further seems to illustrate the isolation and loneliness of Smilla. At times it feels like the loneliness is what drives her, at times it is her deeply scientific, analytical world view. The clash between the way she has created herself and a natural drive towards connecting with other people really drives this book forward. As she meets new people, never knowing who to trust, we follow her navigating the people as much as the mystery; always with an obligation to Esajas – to figure out who killed him.
(Added the link for the US translation, but read it in its original language).