Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow is a fascinating book. It's quite unjust that on Amazon at least, it seems barely known, while books of much lesser ambition and accomplishment are lauded.
The book is actually hard to describe. In plot terms: the heroine, a prickly loner, is drawn into a plot by a child's death. Sensing wrongdoing, she battles police, bureaucracy and sinister conspiracies to get to the truth, helped by a misfit band of characters, all while falling in love against her will with her main collaborator - or is he the enemy?
In the hands of most authors, this would just be another of the thousands of wannabe thrillers published each year. Peter Hoeg, with the setting, the character, and the originality of his writing, makes Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow something quite different.
The book is set in cold, cold climates, ranging from urban Copenhagen to the fjords & glaciers of Smilla's homeland of Greenland, to the seas off west Greenland that terrify even the hardest sailors - the 'Sea of Fog' and the 'Iceberg Cemetery'.
Smilla Jaspersen, of unusual parentage - her father a Danish medical specialist, her mother a Greenlandic traditional hunter - is a scientist, rationalist, mathematician and expert on snow and ice in all its forms. After her mother disappears on a hunting trip the child Smilla is taken to Denmark by her father - to a foreign land of boarding schools where no-one speaks her language, and people look down on the dark, uncouth Greenlanders.
As much as a thriller this is also a story of displacement and dispossession, of how irrevocably your homeland can shape you and remain in your heart. The well-meaning Danes colonise Greenland with the usual devastating effects on the native inhabitants - Smilla's own brother, the clan's supreme hunter, is reduced to sweeping docks and then suicide.
Smilla herself is educated and urbane enough to survive city life - she dresses elegantly, reads Euclid, understands bureaucracy. But the subversive misfit of her childhood is never far from the surface and she's a genuine rebel, in a way that the savvy, wisecracking heroines of US/UK stories somehow never are.
The language, while lyrically translated, is very unlike anything that would be written in native English, it's crammed indiscriminately with mundane details, philosphical musings, and a few wonderful insights. It's not for lightweight easy-reading fans - neither is the final revelation of the 'mystery' which, although implausibly stupid, somehow doesn't detract too much from the overall spell of the book. If you're bored with the standard murder mystery/thriller books, please - find and read this one.