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The Elephant Keepers' Children

3.38  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,923 Ratings  ·  377 Reviews
Peter and Tilte are trying to track down two notorious criminals: their parents. They are the pastor and the organist, respectively, of the only church on the tiny island of Finø. Known for fabricating cheap miracles to strengthen their congregation's faith, they have been in trouble before. But this time their children suspect they are up to mischief on a far greater scal ...more
Hardcover, 496 pages
Published October 23rd 2012 by Other Press (first published September 6th 2010)
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Bookwormthings Not a weird question, but there is no elephant except in metaphor. "The elephant in the room" is the thing that everyone knows, but doesn't talk about…moreNot a weird question, but there is no elephant except in metaphor. "The elephant in the room" is the thing that everyone knows, but doesn't talk about or even acknowledge, even though it really needs talking about.(less)
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My 2013 Reading Challenge
41st out of 79 books — 26 voters
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Denmark in Fiction
31st out of 35 books — 12 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Kels Fidler
Nov 09, 2012 Kels Fidler rated it did not like it
Shelves: first-reads
I regret to say that I didn't really enjoy this book, The Elephant Keepers' Children by Peter Hoeg, that I won on Goodreads, and I'll tell you why:

-the prose was overwrought and overcomplicated, and it made me feel like I was stupid, and keep in mind, the narrator is a fourteen year old boy, and shouldn't sound like he is a Rhodes scholar
-there are far too many characters to keep track of and I kept getting confused
-because the prose was so confusing to me, I barely even absorbed what was happen
People who know me well know that one of my least favorite topics of conversation is religion. It varies in importance from person to person, so I find it impolite to probe into the religious workings or non-workings of the majority of individuals. Perhaps this has something to do with the extremes to which faith is wielded by a variety of people; why is it that talk of God is so frequently usurped as a means to an end rather than a means to improvement? It is this question that is poised so pla ...more
Dec 24, 2012 Danny rated it really liked it
Shelves: library-book
“I have found a door out of the prison.”

So begins this tale full of unexpected humor, adventure, intrigue, and the search for transcendence. Peter, Tilte, and Hans grew up in a rectory. Their father is the pastor of a church on the tiny island of Fino, and their mother plays the organ when she’s not busy inventing gadgets. Both of their parents are elephant keepers, by which the children mean that they “have something inside them that is much bigger than themselves and over which they have no co
Rebekka Steg
This week I've been reading a book in Danish, by the Danish writer Peter Høeg (author of Miss Smilla's Feeling For Snow, The Quiet Girl, Borderliners). I especially loved Borderliners, it's actually one of my favourite books. The Elephant Keepers' Children (my translation, there's no official translation yet) is in the style of mystical realism, similar to Haruki Murakami. The philosophical idea behind the novel, is the thought that some of us have "elephants" inside of us, that we need to be ke ...more
I'm giving this 2 stars even though this was a DNF - some readers will enjoy wading through the dense prose, the constant diversions and the overlong sentences more than I did. What I got out of the first 1/4 of the book was this was a world populated by slightly quirky people, with some sort of magical realism going on. Not paranormal, but more psychological magic.

Here's one reason for the DNF: all too often our hero/narrator says "I'll get to that in a moment" or "I'll explain that later" (in
Oct 28, 2014 Sebastian rated it it was amazing
Excellent book!
Aug 03, 2013 Elizabeth rated it really liked it
Stephen King once wrote an article describing why we crave horror stories, concluding that the darker cravings of one’s nature can be suppressed as long as we occasionally indulge those desires. E.g., you can keep the alligators under your mind’s trap door “as long as you remember to feed the gators.”

So, if Mr. King is to be trusted (and with his imagination for dark things, I would trust him on this front) we all have a split nature with our “gators” and the nice world of churches and daisies t
Melissa Lee-Tammeus
Apr 27, 2013 Melissa Lee-Tammeus rated it it was ok
Shelves: borrowed
I read half of this book. I really wanted to get through it, but the library wanted it back. I had had it for 9 weeks and was just sitting on it. Clearly, with that being said, it was a rough one for me to get into and, truly, to even understand. It is reminiscent of the old crazy writing of Tom Robbins "Still Life with Woodpecker" or the one about the chick with the big thumb (Even Cowgirls Get the Blues). Just very surreal and I felt like I was in a funhouse the whole time. I wasn't certain if ...more
Ken Fredette
Nov 10, 2012 Ken Fredette rated it it was amazing
I love Peter Høeg's books, ever since he wrote Smilla's Sense of Snow in 1993.
May 03, 2014 Maria rated it it was amazing
It takes a good translator to ensure that humour in one language has the same effect in another - and Martin Aitken is a very good translator! This is the story of three children whose fairly odd parents have disappeared and their journey to find them. Written from the point-of-view of the youngest child, Peter, we see the eccentricities of others according to a 14 year-old and the confusion of that period of adolescence just before early adulthood. Peter's middle sibling, sister Tilte, is the m ...more
Sep 11, 2014 Allyson rated it it was ok
One of my favorite books which I reread is his Smilla's Sense of Snow, but I only just tolerated this book.
I am always suspicious of translations as feel they cannot represent the author's true voice, but since I do not read Danish, have no choice. The faults in this book I will therefore blame on his translator, chief among them the stupidly distracting character names. The plot is fantastical, but I might have accepted it were the names reasonable. They were ludicrous, unnecessary, and dimini
Karen Klein
Nov 19, 2012 Karen Klein rated it really liked it
I started out thinking that I wouldn't like this book, would stop reading it and just bring it back to the library but it's one of those books that kind of just sucks you in after awhile and you have to keep reading. For some reason, and this is only my opinion, 14 year old Peter (the main character) reminds me of Flavia De Luce in Alan Bradley's series..........they get themselves into outrageous situations, are able to extricate themselves from those situations just in the nick of time and bel ...more
Oct 23, 2012 Greg rated it really liked it
Fun absurdist romp. I really liked the voice of the narrator, Peter. This has the same peculiar sense of humour - deadpan philosophical - that seems to be a Scandinavian thing. It reminded me of both Doppler and The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window And Disappeared.

But I think that Hoeg doesn't use his time very well. At over 500 pages, the story could have got much larger and crazier, or else he could have edited it down to a tighter 300 to 350 pages.
Anne Slater
May 29, 2014 Anne Slater rated it really liked it
I will grant you that this is one fat book-- just shy of 500 pages. If you are impatient for action and a direct line thereof from start to finish, don't bother with this book. That's usually my style, but I just got sucked into The Elephant Keepers' Children-- in the first 2 pages.

The brazen ingenuousness of the narrator was the beginning. I have known 14-year old boys. They are either monsters or charmers. Our narrator is an unpretentious charmer who assumes that the reader is a willing liste
Jan 10, 2013 Mary rated it really liked it
Quirky, but my kind of quirky. Peter, Tilte, and their dog Basker are searching for their parents who have disappeared and maybe involved in some shady dealings. They have an older brother Hans who does not really play a huge role in the novel. Their father is the rector of the Fino church and their mother is an inventor, highly skilled at making things, and plays the organ on sundays. The children suspect that their parents may have acquired a taste for the finer things in life like mink coats ...more
Mar 10, 2013 thewanderingjew rated it really liked it
I think it took a genius to write this book and make it readable, likeable and fun. It could easily have been a book tossed into the dustbin. The story mocks every convention of modern society in tongue-in-cheek ways with hilarious plays on words even with the names of characters and places, some almost unintelligible in the audio addition because they are so foreign sounding.
The book is unusual in that it is not addressing the reader at large, but is supposed to be a private conversation betwee
Margaret Carmel
Jun 11, 2013 Margaret Carmel rated it it was amazing
I really loved this book. There were two general main ideas that I really identified with. First, was the idea of everyone having elephants. "Elephants" in the book are the idea that everyone has demons or uncontrollable bad things inside of them that cause them to do negative things or things that don't make sense. Basically, no one is perfect especially adults. The children in this book are dealing with their parents "elephants" in this story. I like the idea of children discovering that their ...more
Nov 20, 2012 Francoise rated it really liked it
The narrator of this romp through the bracing terrain of spiritual enlightenment and madcap action-adventure shares with me a love of the convoluted, beautifully constructed sentence that provides a long-winded, gently mocking indirect introduction to a short declarative fact. If I didn't live with 14-year olds I would probably have added that the boy seems precocious. His sister is the best character -- a force of nature who persuades everyone to her view and puts friends in a coffin to help th ...more
Jan 30, 2013 Anna rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: apl, audiobook, 2013
Not bad writing, but also not much happening.
A story told as a 14 year old boy from a fictional somewhat remote island of Finø in Denmark (pronounced Fiina on the audiobook for some reason. Maybe the differences between a, o, ä and ø are not that clear... a = like u in English word hut, ä = like in English word man, o = like au in naughty, ø = like i in bird). The inner voice did not remind me of a 14 year old boy who's grown in a remote area. There was just too much academic wisdom in his ramb
Dec 17, 2012 Susanna rated it really liked it
I loved, loved, loved Hoeg's writing style. Quirky, ironic, hilarious - all the things that can combine to make an immensely enjoyable read. The plot was slow and meandering, but the writing made the pages fly by fast, still feeling fun. The characters were great, too, each one unique and interesting. It was difficult to predict what crazy plan or twist they would come up with next!

Though this was a fun read, I felt like the deeper ideas didn't come through. There's a lot about religion, especia
Rosemary Ellis
Jan 02, 2013 Rosemary Ellis rated it really liked it
You have heard of the "elephant in the room." Well, this book is more about the elephants inside each of us and those we love, as told from the perspective of a 14 year old boy. The story takes place in Denmark and focuses on the narrator and his 16 year old sister, both very precocious, and a bunch of eccentric characters.

As I was reading this, I kept thinking about what a great movie it could be. Action, adventure, young love, mystery, family dynamics, spirituality, religion, magic, comedy and
Travis Sherman
May 30, 2013 Travis Sherman rated it it was amazing
Brilliant and weird, this book was just plain fun to read. I loved the setting, Denmark, and I loved the way 14-year-old Peter, the main character, described it, with all the cheerful sarcasm of the intelligent youth. The plot was identical to so many I've in Childrens' -- parents disappear, children have to cope & make decisions, wild adventures -- but Hoeg's version is rich with the kind of humor that makes you stop and reread the page with a smile on your face.
Jan 27, 2013 Lormac rated it did not like it
Look, if an author is aiming for whimsey, and I am assuming Hoeg was, considering that he was naming his characters things like "Leonora Ticklepalate" and "Thoredeus Claptrapp," the author needs to keep his book short. Whimsey only works in under 200 pages, otherwise it becomes an ordeal, which this book was...
PS If the goal of your book is to address the issue of the existence of God, whimsey is probably not the best approach.
Mar 03, 2015 Bodil rated it did not like it
What a waste of talent.
Why would anybody write a story that most of all reminds you of a written version of "Scooby-Doo"? I can almost hear the sounds of the dog Scooby-Doo every time the dog in story pops up (and as we all know, that ain't pretty ;-)).

The names of the characters are so far out that they are not remotely funny or interesting. It worked in my childhood cartoons, Donald Duck, but it doesn't work in an adult book, even though I am sure that there is a very cunning reason why the a
Sashko  Liutyj
May 31, 2014 Sashko Liutyj rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, magic, summer
дуже багато любові: до рідного міста, до країни, до місцевого пива, і, найголовніше - до людей.
і ще - до слонів, які живуть всередині нас.
неймовірно, як в такій легкій книжці вміщується стільки мудрості і магії.
найвищі бали і палкі рекомендації)
Apr 27, 2013 Sam rated it it was ok
Abandoned ship 7/8ths of the way through. I wanted it to be better than it was. In the end, I couldn't justify giving it a 300th chance. It's confusing, absurd, and in the end, kinda dumb ....
Nancy Brisson
Apr 19, 2013 Nancy Brisson rated it liked it
Peter Hoeg (picture an oblique line through the o), author of The Elephant Keeper’s Children, also wrote Smilla’s Sense of Snow, which put him on the world’s literary map. This novel, though very well written and, at times, humorous, may not end up being quite as popular.

The subject of the book is to get us to look at what drives us, what is our “prime mover”, our elephant that we keep at the heart of our lives. Letting a hidden elephant run your life is not necessarily a good thing either accor
Andrew Marr
Dec 06, 2013 Andrew Marr rated it it was amazing
Shelves: literature
I see that most readers who have rated & commented on this book were bewildered or disgruntled or otherwise dissatisfied. I found the book to be extraordinary. I admit that in the early going, although I was intrigued by the droll but at times surprisingly wise narration of 14-year-old Peter, I wondered if the novel would amount to anything. For me, it did. For one thing, it has been years since I read anything that put me in stitches laughing anywhere near as much as this one did. But I nee ...more
Kylie Purdie
Feb 02, 2013 Kylie Purdie rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2013-read
This is one of those books where I feel I should have got more out of it than I did. That's not say I didn't enjoy it, I'm just not sure what it was all about.
The elephants referred to in the title are not literal elephants, instead they are elephants that some of us carry inside, the things that elephant keepers have inside them that is much bigger than themselves and over which they have no control.
Peter and Tilte are concerned that their parents elephants have lead them to do something danger
John Bellinger
Apr 01, 2013 John Bellinger rated it liked it
I read 150 pages and went back to the beginning. This is a wonderful author, or it is a wonderful author/translator combination, as the author is Danish. I marvel at the complexity of translating straightforward prose alone, but Hoeg is a very funny and very quirky author, and there are a lot of subtleties of language in a deceptively simple style. There is more than a bit of Vonnegut in here, and I enjoy that.

I feel that the quirkiness kept me from paying better attention to the narrative, and
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Peter Høeg was born in Copenhagen, Denmark. Before becoming a writer, he worked variously as a sailor, ballet dancer, and actor. He published his first novel, A History of Danish Dreams (1988), to positive reviews. However, it was Smilla’s Sense of Snow (1992), a million-copy best seller, that earned Høeg immediate and international literary celebrity. His books have been published in more than th ...more
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“I don't know if you're in love with someone. If you're not, there's something I would like to say to you, and that is that love comes to everyone. All fifteen years of my experience in life tell me that the world is organized in such a way that all of us find someone to love. Unless we work against it. So if you're not in love with anyone but would like to be, you should try to discover which part of you is working against it.” 2 likes
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