Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Denmark: The History of Danish Dreams, by Peter Høeg

Peter Høeg's best known novel is Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow. I read this quite a few years back, and then read his next novel, The Woman and the Ape, which met with a rather lukewarm critical reception, and didn't particularly appeal to me.

However last year I came across The Elephant Keeper's Children in the public library and rather enjoyed it, so decided to try another of his novels for my Danish contribution to the around the world project.

I was somewhat misled by the blurb on the back of The History of Danish Dreams. This begins "Denmark is the centre of the world. Or, more precisely, the centre of the world is located on the estate of the Count of Mørkhøj,at a spot on the edge of the coach-house midden. Around his estate the Count has built a wall. He has stopped all the clocks so that time should simply go away and the entire household may live forever - until two hundred years later the twentieth century makes its violent entry." I thought I was in for something with a science fiction flavour to it, but the book turned out to be more of a family saga, albeit with some rather surreal elements and very eccentric characters.

I found it a bit hard to keep track of the story line perhaps because I read it in rather small chunks - twenty minutes or so at bedtime. I think it would repay more concentrated reading. And towards the end I became a bit irritated by the number of authorial insertions, pretending that the book is in fact non-fiction - a "history of Danish dreams" - rather than fiction. For instance "All things considered, we should all be grateful that this is not a novel, since Carsten is far too complex a character to figure in a novel". Nevertheless, it's an intriguing read. While certainly a promising start to the author's writing career, I would have to say I preferred The Elephant Keeper's Children (which I'm not going to review here as it is not fresh enough in my mind, since I read it last year before I decided to start this project). One thing is certain - his books are not predictable, so if I should choose to try any more - maybe later since I still have over 170 countries to go - none of them are likely to be similar to either of these two.

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