Cover detail of Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow by Peter Hoeg

Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow by Peter Høeg

Back in the earliest days of the Blog, I published a list of my Top 10 favourite books, and Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow by Peter Hoeg featured in the middle to end of my Top 10. As happens, I read more books and some supplanted my original Top 10, but Miss Smilla has always been knocking on the door of that Top 10 list.

Read my review of Gorky Park by Martin Cruz Smith

Read my review of Red Leaves by Paullina Simons

For me, if I think of this book, it reminds me of my first job out of University - bookselling. This book was a quiet slow-burner, and then word of mouth got around and it began to see better sales before breaking into the fiction Top 10. You have to remember this was a long time before the wonderful Scandi-Noir crime books that exist today.

It's achingly beautiful, and quiet. Like snow. And was the perfect read to curl up with during Twixmas. It is a 5 star read, no surprise there. The essence of why this is so good is hard to capture, but I'm going to have a go,

The Plot

One winter evening the neighbour's six-year old boy falls to his death from the apartment roof in Copenhagan. Accidental death, say the police. But Smilla Jespersen, a resourceful, tenacious, and bloody-minded Greenlander, knows the boy well: moreover she has a feeling for snow - and those last footprints tell her a tale. Her investigation starts in Denmark and leads to the Arctic ice-cap as Smilla doggedly homes in on her quarry.

My Thoughts

I'm going to link back here to a previous blogger - Malcolm Kershaw, fictional bookshop owner in Peter Swanson's Rules for Perfect Murders who put this firmly on his list of Mysteries for a Cold Night.

Smilla Jespersen is the half Greenlandic, half-Danish main character in the novel which starts with the death of six year old Isaiah seemingly from his apartment roof. Smilla wonders why he was up there, and given that she has a feeling for snow, notes that Isaiah's footprints show that he was running away from someone. The police don't believe her, calling Isaiah's death an accident that occurred during play. Smilla though is tenacious, has love for Isaiah, a fellow Greenlander, who entered her life and who she has grown to love.

Questions are asked of the boy's alcoholic mother. Smilla discovers that Isaiah's father was killed during an expedition to the Arctic ice-cap and each month Isaiah himself is picked up in a smart car for a day and will not talk about it. Mysterious payments are made to his mother, and Smilla begins to unravel a thread that will lead her into more intense and dangerous situations before embarking on a perilous journey herself to the Arctic.

There are a number of threads running through the novel. The first is Smilla's heritage, her beautiful and almost poetic relationship with her extraordinary mother. The writing is gorgeous and full of aching loss. Smilla is proud of her mother's ability to survive in the harshest of environments, much like Smilla herself.

Hoeg's novel also comments on the treatment of Greenlanders by the Danes. Smilla feels that they are treated like second-class citizens and the investigation into Isaiah's death compounds this further. It infuriates Smilla and makes her even more determined to make Isaiah's life and death count for something.

Smilla herself is incredible. She has her mother's spirit, the many life lessons she has learned and an almost jack russell tendency to never let go, a boldness. She is very prickly and seems unloveable or able to love. Both of which are untrue.

For me though the beauty of this novel, is the snow itself as described by Smilla's mother and Peter Hoeg's words. After darkness and danger, the snow comes as a welcome relief. Like snow, it quietens and soothes, is beautifully unique and we learn its many forms and dangers.

This is more than a crime novel. It's involving, achingly beautiful and quiet. I loved re-reading this again over Twixmas.

I will be back next week, where I will be hopefully compiling my epic To Be Read pile. It's enormous! Have a great weekend.