Josh's Reviews > Smilla's Sense of Snow

Smilla's Sense of Snow by Peter Høeg
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Apr 16, 08

Read in December, 2007

After an initially over-enthusiastic 5 stars (which prompted consternation from some parties!) and then a too-sober 3 stars, I'm settling on four stars for this intelligent, brooding, minutely researched, acutely observed thriller. I think I wanted to give it five stars for two reasons: I read some negative reviews on this very webpage, and, finding them idiotic, wanted to vindicate this novel. I also cannot get out of my head the image of the Swiss German cook Urs using a freshly baked, burning-hot loaf of bread as a weapon: amazing!

Smilla is the protagonist: half-Danish, half-Greenlandic, slipping through the cracks between both identities, as she also slips through the cracks of her academic, professional and social life. She has a very keen perception and, through the first-person voice, the narrative has this hypnotizing pattern of reporting the events of the story, stepping immediately back from a particular event and moving inward to Smilla's abstract or general reflection, and then moving back to the action of the story. It is a cycle you can see playing out page after page, and it is for the most part engrossing.

As the plot unfolds and new information comes in, one knows more and more about Smilla as a person, but mysteriously less and less about how she will act in the future. The more one knows about her life and her way of thinking, the less one can predict what she will do and why she will do it. In the end even she herself doesn't seem to know! This epistemological paradox seems to be one of the major lessons of the book: people that try to instrumentalize and exploit what they know inevitably do terrible things; people like Smilla who respect the limits of their knowledge. . . well, they end up being the victims of those other people.

Brilliantly detailed writing on Copenhagen, on corporate capital, ships and navigation, glaciology, parasitology, non-organic life: there is a love for the most technical aspects of a system of knowledge in the face of the increasing inability of such systems to remain pure. Much more could be said if I'd written this review four months ago! Highly recommended.
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message 1: by Dorian (new)

Dorian Ok, tell me what I'm missing here. Loved the first half, hated the second. one long chase scene around a ship, as I recall. Enlighten me, please.


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