Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Book Challenge: Smilla's Sense of Snow

Title: Smilla's Sense of Snow
Author: Peter Hoeg
Pages: 457 (including endnotes)
My rating: ★ ★ ☆  ☆
Category for the challenge: A book written in a language other than English. (Originally written in Danish, Frøken Smillas fornemmelse for sne)

The idea of this book enchanted me -- a woman who has a finely-tuned sense of snow, right down to the polarization of ice crystals as they form snowflakes. I mean, who hasn't heard that the Inuit have more words for snow than the Brits have for rain? I was looking forward to learning what she could do with this incredible sense.

It turns out she is a supremely excellent navigator. And she can walk on thin ice because she can sense its stability. Or perhaps the ice is alive and senses its resonance with her and refuses to let her fall. The descriptions of her days in Greenland before her mother's death are nostalgic as they outline hunts and Smilla's abnormal reluctance to kill defenseless things. 

She is also a tough nut to crack, a tiny dynamo, a damaged woman who has trouble with relationships, a saucy little thing. She can climb the rungs on the ice-covered sides of cargo ships. She keeps a knife handy and isn't afraid to use it. Because of her incredible wits, she is able to overpower men who are twice her size and outwit evil geniuses. 

Stop me if you've heard this description before. What I'm trying to say is that it is all just a bit cliché and a little implausible. 

But that is all part and parcel of the thriller genre, which is not one I usually read, so perhaps that explains why I didn't enjoy this book as much as I could have. 

The other issue was that a great deal of the action takes place inside the cargo ship, and I got completely disoriented. I couldn't figure out how she escaped detection when she seemed to be hiding in plain sight. I expect the movie did a better job of this.

One thing I did enjoy about the book was the way it highlighted the racism the Danish feel towards Greenlanders. Greenland is an autonomous country within the Kingdom of Denmark. Most Greenlanders are of Inuit descent and are treated much as Canadian Inuit and natives are: shunned, slandered, scorned. When they leave their culture of Greenland and come to Europe, they are plunged into poverty and all its trappings, including substance abuse, family dysfunction, and premature death. 

Bottom line: although I enjoyed reading some parts of this book, I think I would rather watch the movie.

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