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TALES OF THE NIGHT by Peter Høeg

TALES OF THE NIGHT

By Peter Høeg

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-374-27254-9
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

 Heg's only collection of short fiction (originally published in 1990) shows yet another facet of the versatile sensibility responsible for such intriguing previous novels as The History of Danish Dreams (1995) and Smilla's Sense of Snow (1993). The eight tales here deal variously (as an author's note declares) with ``love and its conditions on the night of March 19, 1929.'' That linkage is gimmicky, but it does enable Heg to set these often fancifully symbolic stories firmly within a context of political and economic ferment and approaching European war. For example, ``Journey into a Dark Heart'' leads a young Danish mathematician toward understanding the motives guiding the European conquest of Africa through the mediation of a fellow train passenger who reveals himself as journalist and former sea captain Joseph Korzeniowski (i.e., Joseph Conrad). Elsewhere, a ballet dancer tells of an ideal love that becomes a disillusioning ``encounter with reality''; a respected judge confesses his love for a young homosexual he's convicted of immorality; and the citizens of an insular town renowned for their love of children are transformed by a smallpox epidemic and the arrival of a grotesque reality instructor. Heg's richly colored stories, which aspire to the epigrammatic concision of the fable, are offered as an obvious homage to the baroque fiction of his great countrywoman and predecessor Isak Dinesen. But their often unduly feverish machinations bring them closer in spirit to the dandyish early fiction of Robert Louis Stevenson. Still, two of the tales are superlative: ``An Experiment on the Constancy of Love,'' in which a glacially beautiful physicist succumbs to emotions ``that physics would never be capable of explaining''; and ``Story of a Marriage,'' a brilliantly developed account of an outwardly perfect marriage doomed by a curse to incarnate (as another story puts it) ``the truth about love. . . that there comes a day when it is over.'' An accomplished and provocative debut collection from one of the world's least predictable writers.