The Quiet Girl - Peter Høeg

That’s where we humans make a mistake. We don’t see the utterly amazing when it comes to us disguised as the ordinary.

The Quiet Girl is something utterly amazing disguised as the ordinary, insomuch as a book can be considered "ordinary." I had read about this in BookPage magazine and requested it for our library. When it arrived, a smallish trade paperback, I thought it would be a quick read for Thanksgiving break. But instead it's taken me about a month to read (after the also longer-than-expected Octavian Nothing), which would explain why I haven't posted any reviews of adult fiction since early October.

I'll be frank: it's a tough book, for several reasons. It's translated from the Danish, and I'm sure there is a cultural barrier that I'm running up against, aside from the simple fact that I'm not familiar with Copenhagen so geographical references are lost on me. Høeg also jumps around in time and space, often nesting memories one inside the other like Russian dolls. Still, it's a beautifully imagined book and although I often found myself lost in the twists and turns of the plot, I loved the language of it throughout.

Kasper Krone is a renowned clown and musician who has seen better days. He is deeply in debt, in trouble for tax evasion and fraud, and about to be deported. His performance contracts have been canceled and he's wanted by several authorities. Kasper has a supernatural gift of hearing: he can identify someone's watch by the sound it makes, he can sense a person's intentions by the way they sound. His hearing drives the plot but also imbues the writing with music: Kasper hears what "key" people are in and makes judgments based on that. His ability is what gave him his success as a performer, being able to gauge reactions perfectly, but it's also why he gets tangled up in this mess.

In the midst of this comes a young girl named KlaraMaria, a girl who has her own unexplained abilities. She and Kasper only have a few brief encounters, but it's enough to draw Kasper into another world involving kidnapping, a peculiar order of nuns, and a giant conspiracy with more participants than I could keep track of. (Those Danish names didn't help.)

I think it was billed as a thriller, but the book isn't nearly fast-paced enough in my opinion to qualify as a thriller. When enemies encounter each other, sometimes there is physical violence, but quite often instead there's a conversation, a dialogue sparkling with double-meanings and implications. Maybe this is a Danish thing as well?

What I loved best about the book were the passages where Høeg describes the world as Kasper hears it: whether it's tracking down a person based on the ambient noise when he calls them on the phone, or hearing the world as music: now Bach, now Mozart, now Beethoven. It reminds me of the way I see the world, but in an aural instead of visual way.

By the end of the book I never quite figured out the entire plot; I didn't keep good track of the various antagonists and I was a bit lost. But I'm still glad I put in the effort. Not something I'd recommend for a quick, light read, but if you're wanting something very different and aren't afraid of a challenge, give this one a shot.

Fed to jonathan's brain | December 16, 2008 | Comments (0)


Post a comment

Remember Me?