The Quiet Girl is an experimental, avant garde and hard to pin down novel. 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.