I’m feeling kind of edgy, strange and unsettled, and I blame it all on this book! It’s also ‘coz I’m going to be leaving my boy behind and go off for a wedding in two days, but that’s another post!
The book then…it was first recommended by my friend JP, who knows a thing or two about books, and although it sat for more than a year on my bookshelf without troubling me in the least, it now has a definite hold on me! I’m not surprised to find it in ‘1001 Books…’ It is quite unlike anything I’ve read before!
That’s not to say the story is particularly original…it’s a murder-mystery, in which the protagonist, Ms. Smilla Jaspersen, sets out to understand the sudden death of a little boy she’s befriended. The setting, plot development, style, and language however are entirely unique! Peter Hoeg is a writer of exceptional calibre and intelligence, and boy can he tell a story!
The book begins with the funeral of Isaiah, a young boy who falls to his death from the rooftop of the White Palace, the residence of many of the story’s main characters, including Smilla Jaspersen, a Greenlander, living, what to me came across as a refugee lifestyle in Denmark (although she’s got a rich father and is always impeccably dressed). She is a glaciologist (the first time I’ve come across that particular profession) with an intimate knowledge and love of ice in all it’s forms, and a complex human being – with an almost pathological love of freedom and an unsurprising abhorrence of the ‘ties that bind’ or so she believes, which makes her an utterly fascinating protagonist. She initially bonds with Isaiah over Euclid’s ‘Elements’, and seen through her eyes, we get a glimpse of his precocious yet gentle nature.
I love Smilla. I understand and somewhat scarily, identify with her. With her fierce loyalty to Isaiah, her frailty and her awareness of her own imperfections. With her tenacity and cleverness at subterfuge that she uses with great success to draw out information from reluctant sources. With her Inuit intuition and concept of ‘Absolute Space’. With her willingness to confront the truth about herself and others no matter how messy. With her attraction to the mechanic & her unconventional methods of grieving. And with her complete confidence and utter reliance on her knowledge of the Ice. I haven’t read any Scandinavian authors before, except for Tove Jansson (whom I adore), and so the setting of the story and the historical aspects of the Denmark-Greenland dynamic, were especially fascinating to me. Smilla’s childhood in Greenland and the Inuit’s love of freedom and vast, open spaces, and their simple lifestyle appealed to the wanderer in me, although I cannot see myself chewing seal blubber around a fire in an igloo, in this lifetime! Although I’m unlikely to visit Greenland in my lifetime, this book will make sure I don’t forget it exists!
As the story unwinds, I am sucked into Smilla’s seemingly impossible and increasingly bizarre (bizarre, because she goes from depressed, single woman living alone, to hunted fugitive forced to shelter in the home of a father she loves but cannot like, to an unwanted and marked passenger on board a 4000-tonne tanker on a mysterious voyage to the Arctic, all completely removed from my reality), quest for the truth. The cast of characters is equally interesting – complicated, each driven by their individual passions and foibles, each working as a cog in the wheel. What really haunts me is Hoeg’s language and style…direct, to the point and insightful, especially in the dialogue between characters. I also enjoyed the way he finds a way to slip in mathematics and physics ever so often in a simple and relevant context, that’s easy to understand and the original way in which he illustrates & defines old concepts of love, friendship, hatred and revenge. Ice of course plays a central role; the book is titled Smilla’s Sense of Snow after all! The only other book that I can recall that used snow as effectively but in an entirely different way is Snow by Pamuk, also a brilliant read! This is a book to be savoured, like a rare vintage. Small sips at a time, followed by periods of introspection, where you just lay back, close your eyes and let it all sink in. Let me explain what I mean by leaving you with the last line from the book (Don’t worry, this is not a book where knowing the last line will ruin the story! On the contrary, it will tell you nothing!), and I quote…”It’s only the things you don’t understand that you can resolve. There will be no resolution.”
Go figure! I plan to do just that. Again.
A must read for every book lover!