Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow
“Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow” was the book that introduced me both to Nordic noir and contemporary literary fiction, and was a major push towards my life-long fascination with the Nordic countries (in case you’re wondering, Scandinavia is the Nordic countries that speak Germanic languages, while “the Nordic countries” include Finland). Encountering it was an epochal moment in my reading history.
But revisiting beloved books from previous decades is always a dangerous affair. What if they’re not actually as good as you remember? What if you discover that your taste was once juvenile, crass, and mundane? You’ll lose the happy memory of a beloved book, as well as being disillusioned with yourself.
I’m pleased to say that my recent reread of “Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow” was just as satisfying as my initial run through. Smilla, half-Greenlander, half-Danish, all attitude, is a wonderful character, full of prickly contradictory feelings towards both her native lands. Hoeg loves to meditate on the nature of Denmark and the Danish character, which is reason enough alone to read his books, because to be honest before reading his work it had never occurred to me that Denmark had a national character and that people would think about it. It’s so easy to believe that only YOUR nationality is the one with patriotism, national character, national pride, and so on and so forth, and realizing that all countries possess those things is an important step in developing your mind.
The story is complex and dense, making it a little too convoluted to be a pure thriller, but allowing for repeated rereads in order to grasp the plot as you savor the setting and language, which are moody, atmospheric, and poetic. Smilla lives in a sensuous world of physical details, whether they be her silk-lined trousers that require her to be careful when sitting down in order to avoid ripping out the seems, or the different types of snow and ice she, a trained glaciologist, encounters as she pursues the killers of the little Greenlander boy she had taken under her wing. The translation reads very naturally, presenting the Danish reality as a given while preserving the frequent interjection of Greenlandic words and references that Smilla uses to describe the snow and ice formations for which European languages have no words. Everything I’ve read by Hoeg has been terrific but this is probably his best, and should be read slowly in order to savor the language and imagery. A great winter read on this solstice night.
And you can grab a FREE preview of my latest release, the epic fantasy/literary fiction novel The Breathing Sea, here.