The Woman and the Ape, by Peter Hoeg

by admin on May 27, 2010

The Woman and the Ape tells the The Woman and the Ape, bu Peter Hoeg 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.

{ 1 comment }

Tales of the Night, by Peter Hoeg

by admin on April 15, 2010

This collection of Tales of the Night, by Peter Hoeg short stories was actually the first book published by Peter Hoeg in Denmark. It was originally published in 1990, three years before his internationally acclaimed bestseller Smilla’s Sense of Snow. And while the book may have its short-comings, in the sense that Hoeg at times seems to be distracted from the stories by his own excellent writing, it still is an extraordinary review and a very good collection of stories.

Peter Hoeg’s simple and very fluent language in the stories in Tales of the Night is a rich and well suited medium for the kind of deep, passionate and very intelligent storytelling we meet here. In the stories, Hoeg attacks the conventionality of Danish life as he sees it, with a bureaucratized system, lots of respect for the institutions of science and law, and at the individual level the very heavy, at times burdening and almost rigid sense of duty and obligation. The stories of this book all in one way or other deal with love, a key to human happiness (and misery too) that I feel Hoeg wants to show is something which in all its multiple forms – even in the form of longing – transcend all those more narrowly set boundaries of “the Danish way of life”.

Also, all of the tales take place on and around the 19th March 1929, but in different places geographically as well as in very different social settings. All of the tales seem initially somewhat strange but acquire as you read them a kind of sense or feeling of authenticity and perhaps even truth. Hoeg writes in a way that triggers readers own perceptions – perhaps also in ways that are different from reader to reader.

The stories in Tales of the Night are “Journey into a Dark Heart”, “Hommage à Bournonville”, “The Verdict of the Right Honorable Ignatio Landstad Rasker, Lord Chief Justice”, “An Experiment on the Constancy of Love”, Portrait of the Avant-Garde”, “Pity for the Children of Vaden Town”, “Story of a Marriage”, “Reflection of a Young Man in Balance”.

My personal favorite is the story of the Lord Chief Justice. A young man is shocked to learn about his grandfather’s homosexuality which he sublimated by collecting ships in bottles and to learn, for the first time, why the ”definitive symbol of the Supreme Court,” Ignatio Rasker, ”resigned from his post under circumstances that have never been made public.” It is a delightfully written story with multiple layers of stories within the stories, each adding to one another.

I also liked “Story of a Marriage” a lot. It is a tale about a writer who discovers that the public image of perfection may at times be more than a little at odds with reality, again written in a way where one story is layered inside another in a surprising way.

Overall, the book is very good and very, very interesting. The translation is also excellent. The same original style that we meet in later books by Peter Hoeg is present already in this book – very thick and slow, often almost dreamlike – and the tales are all well written, interesting and very thought-provoking.

{ 0 comments }

Smilla’s Sense of Snow, by Peter Hoeg

by admin on April 10, 2010

(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 theSmilla's Sense of Snow, by Peter Hoegoutstanding and very original style of Peter Hoeg and excellently translated by Tiina Nunnally. It is a book with action, suspense, delicious writing, contradictions 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 and ice, 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. She uncovers a series of conspiracies and cover-ups and quickly realizes that she can trust nobody.

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. Peter Hoeg proves that serious literature can be both entertaining and artful. A novel of the kind that only comes along very rarely.

{ 3 comments }

The Quiet Girl, by Peter Hoeg

by admin on March 23, 2010

The Quiet Girl is an experimental, avant garde and hard to pin down novel. The Quiet Girl, by Peter Hoeg It is well translated by Nadia Christensen, so it is not, as one reviewer suggested, “Lost in translation”. Rather the novel – which by some has been presented as a thriller, something that it most definitely is not – is extremely complex, somewhat philosophical, and totally mystifying.

The Quiet Girl tells a vague, strange, diffuse, at times unreal and mystical story in a highly non-linear fashion. At times it is nearly realist in its style, at times Hoeg plays with words, symbols and associations and constructs complexes of sentiments, visions and sounds out of thin air that are delightful, but have no contextual references or clear meanings. For example:

“The moment had something of the ending of BWV 565 about it, Toccata and Fugue in D-minor, great fateful pillars of music that stand there briefly before the curtain goes up again.

Yet it leaned slightly toward the romantic. And Kasper knows that the cosmos is not especially romantic. Romance is an extreme position, and all extremes get evened out.”

Peter Hoeg is an exceptional writer and has the ability to grasp, define, construct, de-construct and re-construct settings, sentiments and situations. I read this novel as an experiment both in content and style. Perhaps Peter Hoeg goes too far, perhaps not. Perhaps many of his previous readers cannot, or will not, follow him into the mysterious landscapes and de-constructions of this novel, but perhaps Peter Hoeg even so achieved what he wanted. I don’t know. I just speculate.

What I do know is that while there are fragments of multiple stories and a larger tale in this book, it is a story hard to grasp, elusive, full of magical realism, mystical abilities and correspondences between people, situations, sentiments, and music that are complex, but seemingly non-random.

The main story is about the clown Kasper, who is being investigated for tax evasion and is about to be deported from Denmark to Spain. He is exposed to some fairly strange dealings with governmental officials from Department H and other mysterious ministries and departments. There is a sense of conspiracy. And there are, somewhere in the periphery mostly, people from the circus world who may or may not want to help him. In addition there are some mysterious investors hidden in the shade, and several religious orders involved as well. And in the midst of it all, a group of otherworldly, strange children in possession of mystic gifts that Kasper wants to save – somehow – but from what and why remains unclear.

Reading the novel is a little like looking at a painting by Salvador Dali. To summarize what goes on in the painting or the book is nearly impossible. At times I felt I could not understand, but also that I did not need to understand. Yet I felt somehow strangely attracted to the real sentences, the clever use of images and language constructions and the clever beauty of the text itself. I read, didn’t quite understand, yet felt, sensed and experienced.

So, be warned: This is a difficult, very strange, extremely elusive, avant garde and experimental novel. It is also a novel full of a different kind of beauty, and constructions and re-constructions that you will work with and that you may or may not feel you grasp, even after five readings. It is a strange and obfuscating fable, different from anything else you will ever read.

{ 5 comments }

Smilla’s Sense of Snow – The Movie

by admin on March 23, 2010

This is a wonderful movie and a great adaptation to film of Smilla’s Sense of Snow by Peter Hoeg.

Smilla, brought to Copenhagen against Smilla's Sense of Snow, DVD her will after her Inuit mother’s death, is a loner, a rebel against society, who hides her fears and loneliness under a thick coat of armor. She seeks refuge in science – her definition of longing is mathematics’ negative numbers, the “formalization of the feeling that you’re missing something.”

Snow is Smilla Jaspersen’s specialty; it’s what she studies and what she knows better than anybody and anything. So when her only friend, an Inuit boy living in the same Copenhagen apartment complex as her, is found dead on the pavement in front of their house, she knows something must be amiss. He can’t have fallen off the roof, as the police quickly conclude: afraid of heights, he would not have climbed to the roof if not driven there in the first place, and he certainly wouldn’t have run to the edge … as his footsteps in the otherwise untouched snow cover on the roof, however, indicate.

Based on a much-praised 1992 bestseller by Peter Hoeg, Smilla’s Sense of Snow is a film of moody power and boundless mystery in its first half, and becomes a conspiracy-laden schock thriller in its second.

Julia Ormond stars as the half-Inuit, Greenland native of Hoeg’s book, and is fascinating, somehow more beautiful than usual through her emphasis of her character’s destabilizing conflicts. Her performance in this movie is very strong. Somewhat aided by an ambiguous neighbor (Gabriel Byrne), Smilla investigates a connection between the child’s death and the misdeeds of a mining company.

The DVD edition of Smilla’s Sense of Snow includes an original theatrical trailer and a short feature on the making of the production.

  • Actors: Ona Fletcher, Julia Ormond, Agga Olsen, Patrick Field, Matthew Marsh
  • Directors: Bille August
  • Format: Anamorphic, Closed-captioned, Color, Dolby, DVD, Subtitled, Widescreen, NTSC
  • Language: French (Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround), English (Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround), English (Dolby Digital 5.1)
  • Subtitles: English, Spanish
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Rating: R (Restricted)
  • Studio: 20th Century Fox

{ 0 comments }

Smilla’s Sense of Snow – video trailer

by admin on February 11, 2010

The book was outstanding. The movie is excellent and fascinating!

{ 3 comments }

Borderliners, by Peter Hoeg

February 1, 2010

The second of Danish writer Hoeg’s novels to be translated into English (following Smilla’s Sense of Snow) is 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 sinister social experiment. The only thing it has in common with […]

Read the full article →

The History of Danish Dreams, by Peter Hoeg

January 11, 2010

This is Peter Hoeg’s extremely remarkable debut novel. It was the wonderful Smilla’s Sense of Snow that turned Peter Hoeg into an international literary superstar, but this novel, written before Smilla’s Sense, may well be Peter Hoeg’s best novel so far. Really an outstanding and exceptional debut! The History of Danish Dreams is a stunning […]

Read the full article →

Biography, Peter Hoeg

December 29, 2009

Peter Høeg (born May 17, 1957) in Copenhagen, is one of Denmark’s most celebrated contemporary writers of fiction. He holds a Master of Arts degree in literature from the University of Copenhagen in 1984. He is divorced and has two daughters. Before becoming a writer, he worked variously as a sailor, ballet dancer and actor. […]

Read the full article →

Bibliography, Peter Hoeg

December 28, 2009

Books 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) […]

Read the full article →