Miss Smilla’s Feeling For Snow by Peter Høeg

Flamingo, 1994. 403p
Translated from the Danish Frøken Smillas Fornammelse For Sne by F David.

Smilla Jasperson is half Danish, half Greenlander. Brought up in Greenland till her mother died, she now lives in Copenhagen and has a distant relationship with her Danish father. Isaiah, a boy she has befriended and also a fellow Greenlander, is found dead in the snow with no tracks near him, apparently having jumped off a roof. But Smilla has a feeling for snow, and she knows Isaiah had a fear of heights. The police mark his death down as a suicide despite her complaints. The novel explores her efforts to find out the truth about Isaiah’s death, a search which encompasses the Cryolite Corporation Danmark and several ill-fated expeditions to Greenland over the years since 1939.

The book is strong on the injustices suffered by the native peoples of Greenland yet acknowledges the improvements in Greenlandic existence brought about by Western influences.

Høeg presents Danish life as overly bureaucratic in comparison to the freer ways of Greenland – it seems there are forms to be filled for everything – but it certainly appears so even in relation to the UK. He has a marked tendency to introduce scenes part way through before flashing back to their entry point and also a prodigious habit of describing settings minutely. Smilla’s back story is interweaved with the scenes in such a way as to be almost integral, as if the story could not have been written in any other style and these digressions rarely, if ever, interrupt the flow. That this seemingly artless artfulness works and never becomes annoying is a tribute to Høeg’s skill as a writer.

While towards the end the book loses its focus slightly, even veering a little unconvincingly towards SF territory before drawing back, the novel is always engrossing.

Miss Smilla’s Feeling For Snow is not unputdownable (no book ever truly is) but it does get very close.

Bookshelf Travelling for Even More Insane Times

Bookshelf Travelling for Insane Times was started by Judith and is now hosted by Katrina at Pining for the West.

The main thrust of this week’s post is to focus on books by Primo Levi.

The times Levi lived through were even more insane than these. An Italian Jew, he was rounded up in February 1944 and transported to Auschwitz, where his experience as a Chemist allowed him to gain a position as assistant in an I G Farben laboratory there. Ironically he was saved from almost certain death by being ill with scarlet fever and in the camp hospital when, on the approach of the Red Army, the SS evacuated the camp and forced the prisoners on a death march further away from the front.

He translated his experiences into a very readable series of books, nine of which are on these shelves (ten if you count This is a Man and The Truce as two.)

Primo Levi Books

Levi’s death forty years later was ruled a suicide by the coroner but he may have fallen from his flat as a result of dizziness.

This photo also shows Peter Høeg’s Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow, a Graham Greene omnibus, Mary Somerville‘s personal recollections in Queen of Science (which is the good lady’s and I have not yet read) plus Isabel Allende’s House of the Spirits.

10 Great Books You Didn’t Know Were Science Fiction or Fantasy

So it says here.

The ten are:-

Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino
The Tin Drum by Günter Grass
Geek Love by Katherine Dunn
Heart of a Dog by Mikhail Bulgakov
Secret Rendezvous by Kobo Abe
Beloved by Toni Morrison
Stories by Karen Russell
Smilla’s Sense of Snow* by Peter Høeg
In Watermelon Sugar by Richard Brautigan
Golden Days by Carolyn See

I’ll perhaps look out for some of these now.

*I have read this as Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow and as I recall the SF elements were the least convincing thing about it.

The others I haven’t read at all – but I’ve seen the film of The Tin Drum** and would have no problem with its inclusion in this list. I have read another by Bulgakov – though a glimpse of the cover of Heart of a Dog in the link would suggest that it is fantastical – and a short story by Kobo Abe.

The link shows Stories by Karen Russell variously involve girls raised by wolves, and vampires so where is the difficulty in categorisation there?

**I have since read The Tin Drum. See my review here.

Books I Have Read (And Some I Intend To)

I’ve gone through the Guardian’s list of 1000 novels you must read to find the ones I actually have read. Italicised books await my attention.
I’ve kept them under the Guardian’s groupings.
Titles followed by question marks I believe I read during my schooldays but can’t quite be sure.

What this list says about me I have no idea.

Love (4)

Paul Gallico: The Snow Goose (1941)
Thomas Hardy: Far from the Madding Crowd (1874)
Haruki Murakami: Norwegian Wood (1987)
Boris Pasternak: Doctor Zhivago (1957)

Family And Self (9)

Kate Atkinson: Behind the Scenes at the Museum (1995)
Iain Banks: The Crow Road (1992)
Lynne Reid Banks: The L-Shaped Room (1960)
William Boyd: Any Human Heart (2002)
Jim Crace: Quarantine (1997)
Charles Dickens: Great Expectations (1861)
Shusaku Endo: Silence (1966)
JD Salinger: The Catcher In The Rye (1951)
Alan Warner: Morvern Callar (1995)

Crime (12 + 2)

Wilkie Collins: The Moonstone (1868)
Joseph Conrad: The Secret Agent (1907)
Joseph Conrad: Under Western Eyes (1911)
Len Deighton: The Ipcress File (1962)
Umberto Eco: The Name of the Rose (1980)
Graham Greene: The Third Man (1950) ????
Peter Høeg: Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow (1992)
Geoffrey Household: Rogue Male (1939)
John le Carré: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (1974)
John le Carré: The Spy Who Came In From The Cold (1963)
Thomas Pynchon: V (1963)
Thomas Pynchon: The Crying of Lot 49 (1966)
Patrick Suskind: Perfume (1985)
Josephine Tey: The Daughter of Time (1951)

Comedy (12)

Julian Barnes: A History of the World in 10½ Chapters (1989)
William Boyd: A Good Man in Africa (1981)
Richmal Crompton: Just William (1922)
Stella Gibbons: Cold Comfort Farm (1932)
Kenneth Grahame: The Wind in the Willows (1908)
Graham Greene: Our Man in Havana (1958)
Nick Hornby: High Fidelity (1995)
Bohumil Hrabal: I Served the King of England (1983)
AG Macdonnell: England, Their England (1933)
Magnus Mills: The Restraint of Beasts (1998)
Philip Roth: Portnoy’s Complaint (1969)
Kurt Vonnegut: Breakfast Of Champions (1973)

State Of The Nation (7)

Alasdair Gray: Lanark (1981)
James Kelman: How Late It Was, How Late (1994)
George Orwell: Animal Farm (1945)
Thomas Pynchon: Vineland (1990)
Salman Rushdie: Midnight’s Children (1981)
Salman Rushdie: Shame (1983)
Mark Twain: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876)

War And Travel (33 + 6)

JG Ballard: Empire of the Sun (1984)
Pat Barker: Regeneration (1991)
William Boyd: An Ice-Cream War (1982)
Joseph Conrad: Heart of Darkness (1902)
Joseph Conrad: Lord Jim (1900)
Joseph Conrad: Nostromo (1904)

Stephen Crane: The Red Badge of Courage (1895)
Daniel Defoe: Robinson Crusoe (1719)
Len Deighton: Bomber (1970)
Alexandre Dumas: The Three Musketeers (1844)
Sebastian Faulks: Birdsong (1993)
William Golding: To the Ends of the Earth trilogy (1980-89)
Anthony Hope: The Prisoner of Zenda (1894) ??
Richard Hughes: A High Wind in Jamaica (1929)
Thomas Keneally: Confederates (1979)
Thomas Keneally: Schindler’s Ark (1982)
AL Kennedy: Day (2007)
Primo Levi: If Not Now, When? (1982)
Alastair Maclean: The Guns of Navarone (1957) ??
Norman Mailer: The Naked and the Dead (1948)
Gabriel Garcia Márquez: One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967)
Frederick Marryat: The Children of the New Forest (1847)
Iréne Nèmirovsky: Suite Française (2004)
Baroness Emmuska Orczy: The Scarlet Pimpernel (1905)
George Orwell: Burmese Days (1934)
Thomas Pynchon: Gravity’s Rainbow (1973)
Erich Maria Remarque: All Quiet on the Western Front (1929)
Walter Scott: Ivanhoe (1819)
Nevil Shute: A Town Like Alice (1950)
Neal Stephenson: Cryptonomicon (1999)
Robert Louis Stevenson: Kidnapped (1886)
Robert Louis Stevenson: Treasure Island (1883)
William Styron: Sophie’s Choice (1979) ??
Mark Twain: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885)
Leo Tolstoy: War and Peace (1869)
Jules Verne: Around the World in Eighty Days(1873)
Jules Verne: A Journey to the Centre of the Earth (1864) ??
Kurt Vonnegut: Slaughterhouse-Five (1969)
HG Wells: The Island of Dr Moreau (1896)

That makes a non-SF total of 77 (though some of them I would classify as SF.) Add in the 60 from the SF/fantasy list and I’ve read 137 of the thousand. I must be spectacularly ill-read.
The good lady notches up 145 with quite a few in common between our two lists.
I could also add the parts of series and the converted short stories from the SF list but that would only take me to just above 140.

Still a long way to go, then. I won’t have time.

For some of them I’ve seen a film or TV adaptation so feel I perhaps don’t need to read them.

A lot of the rest, however, I have no intention of ever picking up.

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