Kirkus Reviews QR Code


by Peter Høeg

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0-374-17138-6
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

 The acclaimed Danish author's first novelwhich follows into English translation his third, Smilla's Sense of Snow (1993), and second, Borderliners (1994)ingeniously reinvents the traditional family chronicle. Hoeg's ambitious narrative spans three and a half centuries, beginning with the tale of a megalomaniac nobleman (the Count) whose ``dream'' is to halt the passage of time and create a stasis in which his own preeminence remains forever unchallengedand, not incidentally, of scientifically demonstrating that the center of the Earth is located on his property. The Count's folly initiates a train of schemes and envisionings involving the son of his steward, the steward's wife, the unconventional family into which their son later marries, and their succeeding generations, all of which are characterized by a struggle between two conflicting impulses: the lust to acquire wealth and power and a selfless (literally, socialist) solidarity with the underprivileged. Hoeg fills the novel with colorful and vivid detail, expertly dramatizing a broad range of occupations and activities. His quirkily memorable characters include a charming young actor who fails to meet the standards of the lawless family (``Adonis brought his father and mother much sorrow, through his compassion for mankind''), and a spoiled beauty whose increasing alienation from her businesslike husband brings her into troublesome intimacy with their handsome young son. The dreamy distancing from reality that they all experience is powerfully underlined by magical-realist metaphors: An overcrowded tenement building sinks into the earth; fathers, surrendering authority to their sons, lose physical definition, blur before others' eyes, and eventually disappear. A fascinating further dimension is added by Hoeg's narrator, who addresses both readers and the novel's characters, lamenting his lack of full omniscience, laboring to puzzle out the meaning of the story of whichhe finally informs ushe is a central part. A brilliant and appealing workone that will make readers of Hoeg's varied and inventive novels impatient for his next.