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Smilla's Sense of Snow by Peter Høeg

Smilla's Sense of Snow (1992)

by Peter Høeg

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
6,276131963 (3.75)436
  1. 161
    The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larson (taz_)
    taz_: Charm school drop-outs Lisbeth Salander of "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo" and Smilla Qaaviqaaq Jaspersen of "Smilla's Sense of Snow" strike me as unconventional soul sisters of the detective mystery. Each haunted by demons of the past, fiercely independent, armored in cynicism and misanthropy, they share a certain psychic landscape and brilliant, icy resourcefulness. If you love one, I predict you'll love the other.… (more)
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» See also 436 mentions

English (116)  Dutch (4)  Danish (3)  Italian (2)  Norwegian (1)  French (1)  Portuguese (1)  German (1)  Finnish (1)  Spanish (1)  All languages (131)
Showing 1-5 of 116 (next | show all)
I read this in tandem with my wife about 10 years ago. I felt it a sharp novel, aware of its genre limitations and still rather meaningful. ( )
  jonfaith | Feb 22, 2019 |
Mystery doesn't typically grab me as a genre and I can do without thrillers on the whole, but this one has more depth than I expected. I learned a lot about the Denmark-Greenland political relationship, and this was a great way to explore it. There's also a lot about the Arctic and its peoples. Smilla, for example, is a Greenlander living in Denmark. Just like Canada's Inuit, she is very attuned to all the subtle varieties of ice and snow. It requires precisely somebody with her background to observe important clues when a young boy appears to commit suicide by leaping off a roof.

The subsequent story doesn't unfold in the typical way (at least, not as I expected); it's less a 'whodunnit' than a 'whydtheydoit'. Smilla just wants to understand. All of her motives are intrinsic, but she's absolutely relentless. This is exactly the kind of character I like best, a gruff logician with a secret emotional side. Standing a whole 5 foot 4, she can milk people's assumptions for all they're worth. It's great to watch her in action, even when her stamina challenges belief. Smilla relies on boldness, spontaneity and solid instincts. This led into a few humourous bits (the dog, the maintenance lady, etc.) but just as frequently she made some brilliant moves. A light touch keeps things more intriguing than frustrating when unfolding events need time to explain themselves as she makes her next leap.

Smilla has many layers and a lot of history that she's very introspective about, mercilessly examining herself under a microscope. This degree of personal honesty grants her the power to read others so well, and humanity in general: what drives us, how we are driven by others. There's exploration here of deeper mysteries than just the one at hand, and it's a rare book in this genre that makes so much quality time to do that. Despite Smilla's direct approach it's not a light, breezy read to the end. In fact, I wouldn't have minded less resolution than I got. By then it felt like the main point was the journey, about always following your own star however inhospitable the wilderness you call home. ( )
  Cecrow | Feb 12, 2019 |
I read this when it was first published about 25 years ago but seem to have liked it better now, probably because I've been immersing myself in Nordic crime novels. It was one of the first in the genre to make a splash, with the added bonus of being just as much about native life in Greenland as about the mystery.

A native Greenlander living in Denmark, Smilla is obsessed with finding out why a child in her building ran off the roof of their apartment building when he was terrified of heights above the second floor. Most of the action takes place in Denmark, but Smilla's memories of her upbringing and professional life working in the Arctic are interesting diversions from the story and help explain her need to investigate and to take risks to find an answer.

Literature as well as genre-writing, this is well worth the effort to follow her meanderings through the past as she gets closer to the truth and ends up in extreme weather and circumstances as she finds her answers. ( )
  auntmarge64 | Oct 14, 2018 |
From the book jacket Smilla Qaavigaaq Jaspersen is part Inuit, but she lives in Copenhagen. She is thirty-seven, single, childless, moody, and she refuses to fit in. Smilla’s six-year-old Inuit neighbor, Isaiah, manages only with a stubbornness that matches her own to befriend her. When Isaiah falls off a roof and is killed, Smilla doesn’t believe it’s an accident. She has seen his tracks in the snow, and she knows about snow. She decides to investigate and discovers that even the police don’t want her to get involved.

My reactions
I really wanted to like this. It’s been on my tbr for ages and it fits a genre I usually enjoy: Psychological thriller / mystery with a strong female lead. And Smilla is definitely a strong female heroine. She’s a keen observer, tenacious, self-reliant, and intelligent. She’s also moody and distrustful, keeping herself somewhat closed off from those around her. And perhaps it’s that quality that made the book less appealing to me. I could never get to really know Smilla or care about her.

Høeg does have a way with words, however. His writing is very atmospheric; I could practically feel the cold, smell the briny sea air, or taste the food. A couple of examples:
“His pants have frozen into an armor of ice.”
“Toward the spot where the current has hollowed out the ice so it’s as thin as a membrane, a fetal membrane. Underneath, the sea is dark and salty like blood.”
“With whipped cream so fresh and soft and yellowish white, as if they had a cow standing in back of the bakery.”

And I think this passage perfectly describes Smilla and her philosophy:
“Whining is a virus, a lethal, infectious, epidemic disease.”

There are sections of the book that were mesmerizing, but many sections that just bored me to tears. And then it just ….. ends. With no real resolution. Even after finishing it I’m not sure I understand what happened. On the whole it was a chore to read, and it took me three weeks to finish it. ( )
  BookConcierge | May 16, 2018 |
When this novel was published approximately 25 years ago, it made a tremendous splash and ushered in the “Nordic noir” genre. It earned rave reviews and appeared on many critics’ Top Ten lists; many popular publications named it the best book of the year. Now having read it, I cannot understand the plaudits this novel has received.

The first half of the novel is intriguing—a young boy falls to his death from the roof of a building in Copenhagen, and Smilla (his neighbor) senses suspicious circumstances. A Greenland native, Smilla possesses expertise in snow, ice, and other adverse weather conditions. She is also rather stoic and distant. She is not an endearing or friendly woman. We learn much about her dysfunctional family and her morose childhood. We also learn much about the Danish colonization of Greenland and the ensuing cultural tensions between Danes and Greenlanders.

In the course of Smilla’s investigation, she encounters international corporate skullduggery and a host of shady and nefarious characters. About halfway through the novel, the setting shifts to a large ship en route to Greenland, where Smilla continues her pursuit of the truth behind the boy’s death. At this point, the novel grows decidedly less interesting. The ship is populated by a variety of indistinguishable villains, and the action becomes confusing and tedious, culminating in an astoundingly unsatisfying conclusion. ( )
  jimrgill | Mar 13, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 116 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (26 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Peter Høegprimary authorall editionscalculated
Berni, BrunoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Cruys, GerardTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
David, FelicityTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hassiepen, Peter-AndreasCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Haughton, RichardPhotographersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Nunnally, TinaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pascual, Ana SofíaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wesemann, Monikasecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Краснова, ЕленаTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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First words
Tr. Tiina Nunnally, US publication:

It's freezing - an extraordinary 0 Fahrenheit - and it's snowing, and in the language that is no longer mine, the snow is qanik - big, almost weightless crystals falling in clumps and covering the ground with a layer of pulverized white frost.
Tr. 'F. David' (Tiina Nunnally, plus changes by the publisher and author), UK publication:

It is freezing, an extraordinary -18°C, and it's snowing, and in the language which is no longer mine, the snow is qanik - big, almost weightless crystals falling in stacks and covering the ground with a layer of pulverized white frost.
Det fryser ekstraordinære 18 grader celcius, og det sner, og på det sprog som ikke mere er mit, er sneen qanik, store næsten vægtløse krystaller, der falder i stabler, og dækker jorden med et lag af pulveriseret, hvid frost.
This winter I've been able to watch the ice forming
"Even if they ripped off your arms and legs, you'd find some way to kick back,"~ Verlaine to Smilla
The bad thing about death is not that it changes the future. It's that it leaves us alone with our memories.
The number system is like human life. First you have the natural numbers. The ones that are whole and positive. The numbers of the small child. But human consciousness expands. The child discovers longing. The mathematical expression for longing is the negative numbers. The formalization of the feeling that you are missing something. Human consciousness expands and grows even more, and the child discovers the in-between spaces. Between stones, between pieces of moss on the stones, between people. And between numbers. ... That leads to fractions. Whole numbers plus fractions produce the rational numbers. Human consciousness doesn't stop there. It wants to go beyond reason. It adds an operation as absurd as the extraction of roots. And produces irrational numbers. ... It's a form of madness. Because the irrational numbers are infinite. They can't be written down. They force human consciousness out beyond the limits. And by adding irrational numbers to rational numbers, you get real numbers. ... It never stops. ... We expand the real numbers with the imaginary ones, square roots of negative numbers. these are numbers that normal human consciousness cannot comprehend. And when we add the imaginary numbers to the real numbers, we have the complex number system.
The problem with being able to hate the colonization of Greenland with a pure hatred is that, no matter what you may detest about it, the colonization irrefutably improved the material needs of an existence that was one of the most difficult in the world.
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Disambiguation notice
Original title: Frøken Smilla’s fornemmelse for sne
US Title: Smilla's Sense of Snow
UK title: Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow
Publisher's editors
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Original language
Canonical DDC/MDS

References to this work on external resources.

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Book description
Haiku summary
Smilla's friend is dead
After falling from a roof.
She investigates.

Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0385315147, Paperback)

In this international bestseller, Peter Høeg successfully combines the pleasures of literary fiction with those of the thriller. Smilla Jaspersen, half Danish, half Greenlander, attempts to understand the death of a small boy who falls from the roof of her apartment building. Her childhood in Greenland gives her an appreciation for the complex structures of snow, and when she notices that the boy's footprints show he ran to his death, she decides to find out who was chasing him. As she attempts to solve the mystery, she uncovers a series of conspiracies and cover-ups and quickly realizes that she can trust nobody. Her investigation takes her from the streets of Copenhagen to an icebound island off the coast of Greenland. What she finds there has implications far beyond the death of a single child. The unusual setting, gripping plot, and compelling central character add up to one of the most fascinating and literate thrillers of recent years.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:13:47 -0400)

(see all 7 descriptions)

Smilla Qaavigaaq Jaspersen investigates the mysterious death of a six year old Inuit neighbor in Copenhagen.

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