This week we have a great article by Global Village Idiot on a (supposedly) great book.
I hope you enjoy it! And if you did, why not write one for yourself?! If you want to write for the BooK NooK, let me know at [email protected].
Miss Smilla is a Greenlander, born and raised among the snow and ice of Thule, a place so far North that compasses point South. Her mother was an Inuit: as strong and resourceful as only the womenfolk of civilisations at the margins of viability can be. Her father is a Dane -- a successful doctor obsessed with golf and his new girlfriend, a ballet dancer thirteen years his daughter's junior. After her mother disappeared while out hunting on the frozen seas, Smilla came to Denmark, but is in many ways more alone and lost there than she ever was on the ice fields of the tundra.
When her only friend -- a young Inuit boy -- falls from the roof of their apartment building, Smilla can read his footprints in the snow; and what they tell her is that his death was no accident. A rebel by nature, she refuses to accept the pat answers of the police, and her determination to unearth the true circumstances of the boy's demise sets her on a journey which will take her to the ends of the Earth -- and then take her home.
Miss Smilla is a superbly written book, with an unusual setting; unconventional yet strong characters; detailed and insightful observation; and a chilly tone which matches the setting perfectly. The movement from scene to scene is compelling, and the reader is skillfully whipped up into sympathetic outrage as the fates and the interests of big business conspire against a displaced and impoverished people. A particular mention should go to F. David for a faultless and stylish translation into English. It is a highly enjoyable read, building up towards a tense and dynamic finish ... which it astonishingly and thoroughly fails to deliver.
This book was widely acclaimed by the critics. Words such as 'masterful', 'evocative' and 'classic' are dotted around the reviews. Time magazine made it their 'Book of the Year'. I can only conclude that these critics didn't have time to complete the book before writing their assessments, and based those judgements on the first three-quarters of the novel; or perhaps their admiration for the quality of the storytelling blinded them to the fundamental flaws of the story itself. The one thing any story needs -- especially a mysterious thriller such as this one -- is a strong ending. The reader should be left with a reasonably clear picture of what has been going on for the last 300 pages, and hopefully a sense that all of the loose ends have been tied up (or at least that any open issues remaining are just a temptation to read the next book in the series). In the case of Miss Smilla, the reader is left feeling empty and unfulfilled -- in fact, given the strength of emotion the book builds, 'cheated' would not be too strong a word. The only credible explanation is that the publisher imposed a deadline which Høeg could not meet, and on receiving an incomplete manuscript decided to finish the book himself - or get his five-year-old child to do it for him.
The descent from masterclass to mediocrity is sudden and sad to relate. A book of great imagination built on solid scientific logic becomes a giant cliché in a soup of mumbo-jumbo. It's a waste and a crying shame, because Høeg is clearly so much better than that. Let us hope that his next book can keep up the pace all the way to the finishing line.