Stephanie "Jedigal"'s Reviews > Borderliners

Borderliners by Peter Høeg
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Sep 15, 2010

really liked it
Read in January, 2006 , read count: 2

I chose this for my most recent book club selection, based on the synopsis, the high rating, and the fact that I'd seen and loved the movie Smilla's Sense of Snow.

I don't wish to belabor points already raised by so many reviewers before me, so I'll just comment on how I experienced it. To be candid, I didn't like it very much the first time (though I wouldn't have said it was bad). Because I had to lead the upcoming book club discussion, I read it again, and the second time through I really enjoyed it.

So what was the problem the first time? I think I did have expectations based on what I'd read "about" the book that caused me to be looking for things that weren't there. I think I thought it would be more of a thriller, and I also thought the adults and institutions would be more sinister. Instead, I think the book points out the sinister aspects of things that many of us are already familiar with to some extent. So it wasn't as shocking as I expected.

Another issue that discolored my initial read, was the structural combination of jumping chronologically, jumping to different settings/characters, and the sparse style. Hoeg doesn't use much detailed descriptions, and the flow seems to be mostly guided by the narrator's stream of consciousness. I felt confused much of the time - Who ARE these people? WHERE are we? WHEN are we? Yet, on the second read, I would not have changed any of these points. The sparse style is part of the beauty of this book. To paraphrase one of the characters, you have to listen to the pauses between Hoeg's words. What he doesn't say, his decisions on what to leave out, or leave to the reader's imagination, is just as important as what he does say.

The final problem, of course, is the discourses on the nature of time, which are strewn lightly throughout Parts 1 and 2, but seem to make up the bulk of Part 3. (There are three "Parts" total.) As others have said, at times these are interesting and seem pertinent, but often they are tedious, boring, and severely interrupt the flow of the story. The only excuse I can imagine for keeping them is that they are "true to the character".

Despite these difficulties, I have to rate this at 4 stars, which is high on my personal scale. During my second read, since I knew what to expect (or what not to expect) and I was no longer confused, the many positive points of this novel came through. The book deals with a long list of topics which are relevant to our times. The characters are interesting and sympathetic. The style is beautiful in its apparent simplicity. I expect that, like many great works of art, each succeeding experience will reveal new depths.

I would recommend it, but note that it is not for everyone. Although I found it to be uplifting in the end, many of my fellow book club members found it to be too sad and depressing throughout. If you are looking solely for entertainment, you might skip this one. If you enjoy something that makes you think, definitely give this a chance!
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