10 years after 'Smila,' Peter Høeg explores the power of silence
Danish novelist Peter Høeg, author of the acclaimed bestseller Smilla's Sense of Snow, returns with his first work in 10 years, the dense and enigmatic novel The Quiet Girl. Set in contemporary Copenhagen, it's a work that can be read on many levels psychological thriller, detective story or intense character study, among others all opening themselves to reveal new layers of meaning.
The novel's protagonist, Kasper Krone, is a renowned circus clown who possesses the ability to access people's acoustic essence, auras of sound that reveal one's personality in musical key signatures. He's also a compulsive gambler who's about to be deported to Spain to face charges of tax evasion. But before he's transported there, an unusual order of nuns offers to intervene on his behalf in exchange for his agreement to help discover the fate of a group of children who share Krone's sound-related gift, including KlaraMaria, one of his former students who's the quiet girl of the novel's title.
Krone's involvement in the search for the missing children plunges him into a journey through a Copenhagen that's both physically and psychologically perilous. In it he meets characters known only as the African or the Blue Lady, and he's pursued by both government officials and shadowy corporate interests who are as determined as he is to find the children in order to serve their own purposes. Along the way he must deal with the impending death of his elderly father and come to terms with the loss of a woman who seems to have been the only real love of his life. Krone is a lover of Bach's music, and the novel is packed with references to the composer's work, some well known and others obscure.
Høeg's also comfortable alluding knowingly to thinkers as diverse as Kierkegaard, Jung and Buber, and the novel undoubtedly will appeal to those comfortable in that intellectual environment. In the end, much of the essence of The Quiet Girl remains to be teased out by adventuresome readers and it's likely even some of them will disagree as to the story's real meaning. For those willing to undertake that task, Høeg's novel is certain to provide lots of fodder for reflection and perhaps even some stimulating late-night conversations with the Goldberg Variations playing quietly in the background.