“Smilla’s Sense of Snow” by Peter Høeg

Smilla's Sense of Snow(Author: Peter Høeg) + (Year: 1995) + (Goodreads)

(Around the World: Denmark)


Smilla’s Sense of Snow depicts the victims in the world of the strong. The struggle of the outsiders in the country of their conquerors. It tells a lot about the systematical overtaking of the Danish culture against that of the Inuits. It also shows the cold world of power, money and desire for fame and glory, which is common for all people, but has no equal than that of the Western, developed, world, where people have already managed to get what they need to cover their basic needs, so they now have the spare time to struggle for things less essential, but just as important to them. Smilla’s Sense of Snow in some ways encapsulates everything that I have heard about the cold north of Europe.

This is also the point in which you can see the gap between the developed world and the third world countries. In the former, they fight for glory, in the latter – for survival.

However much Smilla’s Sense of Snow told me of Denmark, as a book it was a lot more mediocre than I hoped. While I do have my prejudices against people whose main motivation in life is power and money, I am not saying that I dislike the people in countries like Denmark. On the contrary, I have recently developed quite a fascination with this small and less loved Scandinavian country (especially as I have so many Swedish friends who dislike it). Therefore, I did have high expectations for Smilla’s Sense of Snow.

The first 100 or so pages were very good and riveting. The mystery developed fast and it went deep. I had no idea what to expect and I was eager to go further. After those first 100 pages, though, things started getting increasingly worse. There was a constant stream of characters who served the same purpose, had the same personality, and all hated the main character, Smilla. At one point, more than halfway through the book, I just gave up trying to keep track of everyone. Too many names, too many unimportant stories, too much fluff.

And don’t even get me started on the stories. From the mystery around the death of a young boy, this book took so many turns, went through so many sub-plots, so much insanity… The author didn’t stop for a second to throw one thing after the other. Each of these elements could have made a fine book all on their own, but Høeg was relentless: murder, drugs, smugglers, Nazis, meteorites, legends, science fiction, ships, agents, killer parasites, Inuit culture, snow, ice, ice, snow, BDSM, ice, missing mothers, dead fathers. Not one of the stories was even finished. Most of all, I expected some sort of a conclusion to the death of Isiah, but I did so in vain. Høeg tried, but failed miserably, to explain the death and give closure. And I was there asking myself “Was that it?” Not to mention that the meteorite story did not fit into the world of this book at all. It was as if I was reading two different books simultaneously, and neither me, nor the characters could understand what to make of it.

If you think that, taking all of this into account, this was a fast-paced book, you would be wrong. For every half a page of intense action, there were 20 pages of descriptions of how many centimeters there are from the door to the light switch, and what the quality of the silence in the room is, and last, but not least, ice and snow and ice. I know that the book’s title is Smilla’s Sense of Snow, but to be describing in detail every state of snow and ice for pages on end is quite special. Not in a very positive way.

Lastly, Smilla might be one of the least pleasant main characters that I have read about. She is extremely angsty, but I failed to understand WHY exactly that is. Sure, her life was not a fairytale, but for example, why did she hate her father so much? What was the reason for that? I never got it. I just knew that she hates him, so by default we have to hate him, too. Also, Smilla is so self-contradictory that she is not a realistic character at all. She spends 99% of her time in the present moping around and daydreaming about 50 shades of snow; and in her memories, she is spending extensive amounts of time reading to Isiah or giving him baths. However, while that was happening, she also managed to go to 20 expeditions to Greenland, to write 2000 papers, to get 89 university degrees, to be arrested 50 times, to tag polar bears, to spend time on ships, to be a part of a million institutions, to sit around and hate her father, to run away from home and go to Greenland without money or documents, to become a person of interest to the police, to investigate, to be well schooled in biology, chemistry, physics, mathematics, engineering… Do you see where I am going? And now, her age: 37. As a conclusion, I would say that Smilla is not a very well built character. She is mean for no reason whatsoever, she hates everyone, despite having had a mostly good life, and she is rude and self-important.

I like him. I have a weakness for losers. Invalids, foreigners, the fat boy of the class, the ones that nobody ever wants to dance with. My heart beats for them. Maybe because I’ve always known that in some way I will forever be one of them. 

Err… why?


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