The Quiet Girl – Peter Høeg

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The Quiet Girl is not a novel to attempt in one day–or many days.  It’s a Fellini-esque, Dali-like  mind-warp filled with circus clowns, psychic children, J.S. Bach, some weird hyper-synesthesia, a plot that threatenes to take out Copehagen and disrupt the normal order of things, kidnapped children, villains, heroes, nuns and cops who can’t be pinned down or trusted.  Peter Høeg must mainline some serious mind-altering substances before he sits down to write every day.

Kasper Krone is an internationally-celebrated clown, addicted gambler wanted for a massive amount of unsettled debt, oddly able to hear tones, notes and music in everything and to identify people, emotions, motives and places just by listening.  He cuts a deal with some unholy powerful nuns to track down a group of kidnapped kids with dangerous psychic abilities in exchange for some relief from his legal problems. And he falls under the spell of one of those kids, a young girl named KlaraMaria who carries a silence around with her like an irresistible weapon. Krone is hooked. He is also betrayed, in life and in love, and constantly on the run. And his father is dying rather spectacularly but still willing to pull strings to find critical information. To make things more surreal, at dire moments Krone likes to play the violin with some virtuosity, favoring the Bach Chaconne, even when his wrist is broken. Some clown.

Half the time I had no idea what was going on. Maybe considerably more than half. The book was mesmerizing but I had no real hope of cracking its code. Høeg takes the idea of scene reversals very seriously–as soon as something happens another event immediately contradicts it and piles complication on complication. Plus, the main characters toss around philosophical observations and cryptic aphorisms like badminton shuttlecocks. And they shift in and out of villainy with every passing paragraph. Who are the actual bad guys–everybody? Nobody?

I think this is an anti-war philosophical thriller–that would be my best guess. But what I really think is that Høeg has written a book about what it is like to give yourself over to taking care of a child and to launching her, with all her fabulous new abilities, into a future you can only dimly see. Plot as metaphor. Why not? The circus is a performance of illusion and unpredictability; a clown’s routine is a theatrical interlude  in which anything might happen next–and often does. So is this really interesting, really baffling book. 

The Quiet Girl: A Novel   Peter Høeg | Farrar, Straus and Giroux    2006


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