Smilla’s Sense of Snow by Peter Høeg

"I feel the same way about solitude as some people feel about the blessing of the church. It’s the light of grace for me."

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The crime mystery novel Smilla’s Sense of Snow (also known as Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow) by Peter Høeg published in 1992 had a worldwide success and showcased to the world the modern Danish literature scene. During past years the novel was republished many times and filmed once as well. Some critics even thought that Smilla’s Sense of Snow is the best book ever written by Peter Høeg. Is it so? Let us proceed!

Smilla’s Sense of Snow by Peter Høeg

Peter Høeg, one of the best known (even if not number one at all) modern Danish writers, started his climbing on the literature Olympus by writing A History of Danish Dreams in 1988. Critics warmly welcomed this book, and in upcoming years Peter Høeg wrote some novels: Smilla’s Sense of Snow is among them. In several years after publication author disappeared for ten years to present his new book The Quiet Girl in 2006. His career continued with books The Elephant Keeper’s Children (2010) and The Effect of Susan (2014). See full bibliography here.

Author’s Style

Smilla's Sense of Snow author
Peter Høeg. Source image via psykiatrifonden.dk

Author’s style is somehow close to Amélie Nothomb writings: this is the exact impression left after descending into Høeg’s maze. The protagonist, represented by Greenlandic woman living in Copenhagen, Denmark, is trying to solve the mysterious death of her young friend. How could a boy with the fear of height climb to the roof of a building? Why do the police not willing to investigate this case even if there are a stranger’s footprints everywhere?

The style is cold, lacking sophistication and has that magic nordic atmosphere in it: it is hard to describe this feeling when opening a book and understand that someone from North has written it. It is strange to expect something else: this is a story about self-identification, solitude and grief.

Smilla

Smilla is unrestrained and somewhat evil. Controlling her is impossible. She can stab a screwdriver into one’s neck or steal a wallet. She can knock over a cupboard on the head of her enemy and never regret about this. Her tongue is sharp, and she knows how to make anybody tell everything she needs. Smilla is almost immortal, and she is good at sorting snow by types and consistency. Smilla’s actions are unreal and uncommon for this world. It is hard to stay alive for so long doing things she did daily in this book. So this woman with sorrowful inner space is trying to solve this mystery and find the key to her only friend’s death.

The Flow

Peter Høeg wrote Smilla’s Sense of Snow using scheme which is not standard for mystery books. Moments of action are following relatively long monologues and thoughts of Smilla about her childhood. Comparing to Amélie Nothomb books, this book is way calmer and thoughtful.

The plot develops slowly at the beginning of the book. Smilla is trying to find some clues and somehow tie up a “common suicide” with a theory of conspiracy and historical Northern expeditions. As pages passing by it seems that Peter Høeg lost his control over the plot forwarding it farther into the wilderness: hard-boiled chases, sneak-outs, explosions, family relationships, a love story (“should I love him or should I stab him?”).

The end of the book is notable for its speed and unpredictability. Northern drama transforms into the action novel, and the distance between author and his book is even more impassable. He breaks it all in half leaving Smilla’s struggle with grief, misunderstanding and indifference open-ended.