Friday, October 3, 2008

Joining the Circus

Many authors can craft an exciting plot, but there are only a handful of writers who possess the ability to capture the sound of their environment. Peter Hoeg is one of those writers. His style, like the rugged beauty of driftwood, commands a reader's attention, both to the story and to its underlying musicality. His most recent novel, The Quiet Girl, is no exception.

The novel has a similar plot-line as the best-selling Smilla's Sense of Snow—an adult on the borders of society searches for a missing child—but with better results. The main character, a Cirque du Soleil-type clown named Kaspar, is written with more texture and depth. In addition, the major motif is music as opposed to snow, a change that warms the story and expands its emotional impact.

Kaspar has an extrasensory hearing ability, a result of a childhood accident. This ability allows him perform seemingly magical tasks: he can identify anyone based on their unique “chord,” pinpoint their location from miles away, read into their past, or predict their future. These abilities help Kaspar in his search for a little girl who possesses amazing abilities herself, and who is spiritually connected to the clown. This girl has been abducted from the orphanage where she lives, and Kaspar seems to be the only one who cares enough to find her.

In his search, Kaspar encounters dogmatic bureaucrats, mystical nuns, cold-hearted businessmen, and beautiful scientists. He enlists the help of fellow circus-folk, including a legless driver, a bird-woman with an infallible memory, and his former lover, the formidable female boss of the circus. Hoeg leads his reader on a mad, twisting adventure through the streets of Copenhagen, and brings to life its stunning architecture, Nordic history, and stark landscape.

This is a finely-tuned, mature novel from one of Denmark’s most artistic writers. Hoeg is at his best here, having produced a hybrid of mystery and magical-realism with a decidedly attractive and arresting Danish voice.

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