This collection of 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.