A Chicago Tribune Favorite Book of 2007
The internationally acclaimed bestselling author of Smilla's Sense of Snow returns with this "engrossing, beautifully written tale of suspense . . . captivating" (The Miami Herald).
Kaspar Krone is a world-renowned circus clown, and a man in some deep trouble. Drowning in gambling debt and wanted for tax evasion, Krone is drafted into the service of a mysterious order of nuns who promise him reprieve in return for his help safeguarding a group of children with mystical abilities--abilities that Krone also shares. When one of the children goes missing, Krone sets off to find the young girl and bring her back, making a shocking series of discoveries along the way. The Quiet Girl is an exuberant philosophical thriller that is "every bit as adventuresome and ambitious as Smilla's Sense of Snow, even more so" (Cleveland Plain Dealer).
|Publisher:||Farrar, Straus and Giroux|
|Product dimensions:||6.60(w) x 9.32(h) x 1.31(d)|
About the Author
Peter Hoeg, born in 1957 in Denmark, followed various callings--dancer, actor, sailor, fencer, and mountaineer--before turning seriously to writing. His work has been published in thirty-three countries. The Quiet Girl is his fifth novel.
Read an Excerpt
The Quiet Girl
By Peter Hoeg
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLCCopyright © 2006 Peter Hoeg
All right reserved.
Chapter OneShe Almighty had tuned each person in a musical key, and Kasper could hear it. Best in the brief, unguarded moments when people were nearby but didn't yet know he was listening. So he waited by the window, as he was doing now.
It was cold. The way it could be only in Denmark, and only in April. When, in mad enthusiasm for the spring light, people turned off the central heating, brought their fur coats to the furrier, dispensed with their long underwear, and went outside. And only when it was too late, discovered that the temperature was at freezing, the relative humidity 90 percent, and the wind was from the north and went straight through clothing and skin, deep into the body, where it wrapped itself around the heart and filled it with Siberian sadness.
The rain was colder than snow, a heavy, fine rain that fell like a gray silk curtain. From behind that curtain a long black Volvo with tinted windows appeared. A man, a woman, and a child got out of the car, and at first it looked promising.
The man was tall, broad-shouldered, used to getting his own way-and capable of having a powerful impact on those around him if he didn't. The woman was blond as a glacier and looked like a million bucks; she also looked smart enough to have earned it herself. The little girl had dignity and wore expensive clothes. It was like a tableau of a holy, wealthy family.
They reached the center of the courtyard, and Kasper got his first sense of their musical key. It was D-minor, at its worst. As in Toccata and Fugue in D-Minor. Great fateful pillars of music.
Then he recognized the little girl. At that precise moment the silence occurred.
It was very brief, perhaps a second, perhaps not at all. But while it lasted, it obliterated reality. It took away the courtyard, the rehearsal ring, Daffy's office, the window. The bad weather, the April month. Denmark. The present time.
Then it was over. Vanished, as if it had never existed.
He clutched the door frame. There had to be a natural explanation. He'd suffered an attack of indisposition. A blackout. A temporary blood clot. No one survives with impunity two nights in a row, from eleven to eight in the morning, at the card table. Or it had been another tremor. The first big ones had been felt way out here.
He cautiously looked behind him. Daffy sat at the desk as if nothing had happened. Out in the courtyard the three figures struggled forward against the wind. It hadn't been a tremor. It had been something else.
The true mark of talent is the ability to recognize when to give things up. He'd had twenty-five years of experience in rightly choosing to part with things. He need only say the word, and Daffy would deny him a home.
He opened the door and extended his hand.
"Avanti," he said. "I'm Kasper Krone. Welcome."
As the woman shook his hand, he met the little girl's eyes. With a slight motion, evident only to him and her, she shook her head.
He took them into the practice room; they stood there looking around. Their sunglasses gave them a blank air, but their tone was intense. They had expected more finesse. Something in the style of the main stage at the Royal Theater, where the Royal Danish Ballet rehearses. Something like the reception rooms at Amalienborg Palace. With merbau and soft colors and gilded panels.
"Her name is KlaraMaria," said the woman. "She's a nervous child. She gets very tense. You were recommended to us by people at Bispebjerg Hospital. In the children's psychiatric ward."
A lie causes a delicate jarring to the system, even in a trained liar. So too in this woman. The little girl's eyes focused on the floor.
"The fee is ten thousand kroner per session," he said.
That was to get things moving. When they protested, it would initiate a dialogue. He would get a chance to listen to their systems more deeply.
They didn't protest. The man took out his wallet. It opened like the bellows of an accordion. Kasper had seen wallets like that among the horse dealers when he was still performing at fairs. This one could have contained a small horse, a Falabella. From it emerged ten crisp, newly minted one-thousand-kroner bills.
"I must ask you to pay for two sessions in advance," he said. "My accountant insists on it."
Ten more bills saw the light of day.
He dug out his fountain pen and one of his old letterpress cards.
"I had a cancellation today," he said, "so as it happens, I can just manage to squeeze her in. I'll start by examining muscle tone and awareness of body rhythm. It will take less than twenty minutes."
"Not today," said the woman, "but soon."
He wrote his telephone number on the card.
"I must be in the room," she said.
He shook his head.
"I'm sorry. Not when one is working with children on a deep level."
Something happened in the room-the temperature plummeted, all oscillatory frequencies fell, everything congealed.
He closed his eyes. When he opened them again, fifteen seconds later, the bills were still lying there. He put them in his pocket, before it was too late.
The three visitors turned around. Walked out through the office. Daffy held the outer door for them. They crossed the courtyard without looking back. Seated themselves in the Volvo. The car drove off, disappearing into the rain.
He leaned his forehead against the cold glass of the window. He wanted to put his fountain pen back in his pocket, into the warmth of the money. The money was gone.
There was a sound from the desk. A riffling sound. Like when you shuffle brand-new cards for one of Piaget's games. On the desk in front of Daffy lay the small mahogany-colored stack of new bills.
"In your outer right-hand pocket," said the watchman, "there are two hundred kroner. For a shave. And a hot meal. There's also a message."
The message was a playing card, the two of spades. On the back, written with his own fountain pen, were the words "Rigshospital. Staircase 52.03. Ask for Vivian.-Daffy."
That night he slept in the stables.
There were about twenty animals left, horses and a camel, most of them old or worthless. All the others were still in winter season with circuses in France and southern Germany.
He had his violin with him. He spread out his sheet and duvet in the stall with Roselil, half Berber, half Arabian. She was left behind because she didn't obey anyone except her rider. And not even him.
He played the Partita in A-Minor. A single lightbulb in the ceiling cast a soft golden glow on the listening creatures. He had read in Martin Buber that the most spiritual people are those who are closest to animals. Also in Eckehart. In his sermon "The Kingdom of God Is at Hand." One should seek God among the animals. He thought about the little girl.
When he was about nineteen, and had started to make a name for himself, he had discovered that there was money in his ability to access people's acoustic essence, especially children's. He began to cash in on it at once. After a couple of years he'd had ten private students per day, like Bach in Leipzig.
There had been thousands of children. Spontaneous children, spoiled children, marvelous children, catastrophic children.
Finally, there had been the little girl.
He put the violin into its case and held it in his arms, like a mother nursing her child. It was a Cremonese, a Guarneri, the last thing that remained from the good years.
He said his bedtime prayer. The closeness of the animals had calmed most of his anxiety. He listened to the weariness; it converged from all sides simultaneously. Just as he was about to determine its key, it crystallized into sleep.
Excerpted from The Quiet Girl by Peter Hoeg Copyright © 2006 by Peter Hoeg. Excerpted by permission.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This books is stunningly bad. It's as if someone took a lyrical thriller set in Denmark with a misanthropic, glamorous hero and then savaged the book afterward to make it unreadable. The book skips around in a way that does not make it more suspenseful but rather eviscerates the reader of any sense of understanding. Whole paragraphs seem to be plain missing from the text. Pronouns are used perhaps to seem sentimental, mysterious, or romantic but actually they attach to nothing and leave no clarity about even the most basic relationship to the story. This is all overlaid on a series of implausible premises which have no political, moral, or other value as metaphors or symbols. It seems the writer has talent, which makes the whole thing worse--one can't put the book down as 'bad writing'. More likely it's a combination of bad translation, bad storytelling, narcissism, and failed attempts to create some wistful mystique wrapped around superhuman hearing (that's right, super-human auditory prowess) and deep insights into metaphysical wisdom beyond human understanding suddenly found in a magical child.
Muddled and abstruse writing greatly mars the fascinating premise of this book. Frustrating to read, I eventually gave up on it.
The effort required to figure out the sequence of events just wasn't worth it to me. A fractal of an abstract is how it seemed; I loved Absalom!Absalom! and 100 Years of Solitude, but this eluded me. It also felt like the translation was lacking, but I couldn't tell for sure.
Imagine a man who relates to his surroundings thorough hearing. But what he hears is not just the mundane noise of modern society, but the underlying symphonies of sound that our relationships and decisions create. I read the first half of this book in a great rush. Special children have been kidnapped. Our hero, evading the law for tax evasion, takes it upon himself to find them and save them. Reading this book is like eating rich vanilla ice cream with small shots of jalapeño peppers. The writing is elaborate and many of the descriptions are brilliant. But the plot is nonstop. Our protagonist jumps from danger to danger and eventually I just got tired and confused by all the rushing around, both physically and temporally. In fact, this book is written as a spiral. Similar characters appear and reappear. Similar situations occur and reoccur. The main problem is just that. Almost all of the characters except the protagonist and the young girl of the title are indistinguishable. None of them are memorable, even the antagonist. Since Hoeg's Smilla's Sense of Snow is one of my favorite books, I was really hoping for an experience like that. The writing is just as dazzling, but the characters and plotlines are twisted and thin. What a disappointment!
Peter Hoeg must be bored of hearing the refrain, "It wasn't as good as Miss Smilla". However boring this sentiment might be, in this case it's entirely justified.The Quiet Girl is a Romantic novel with excellent, thought provoking dialogue - the reader emerges with a fuller sense of the absurdity and beauty of life.I just wish I understood the plot.There is a child who is kidnapped - but sort-of isn't: there is an earthquake the children predicted - but sort of not really; there is a father who dies - but kind of doesn't; there is an order of Nuns who are on the clown's side - but kind of not.Hoeg toys mercilessly with the narrative, blending the past with the present, the present with the possible.This kind of narrative device has a long and distinguished tradition in fiction - but the line between intriuging and incomprehensible is a fine one."Tirra Lirra by the River" by Jessica Anderson and "The Time Traveller's Wife" by Audrey Niffenberger are examples of how effective this device can be: "The Quiet Girl" is unfortunately not.
I found this a provocative, intriguing, and confusing read. I kept thinking that some of the perspective might be better understood and shared by my meditation teacher, and I also rather liked reading something with that perspective and world view.
The Quiet Girl has a dense, complicated, dreamlike quality that is absolutely mesmerizing. Hoeg explores the dark side of human existence using the interplay of societal misfits with a highly developed talent and the power structure of the increasingly 1984-ish world we live in. This is the high end of popular fiction.
I spent time tonight reading various American reviews of Hoeg's latest novel. Some reviewers enjoyed it, others say it is convoluted, has too much information, etc. I read the book a year ago in Danish while visiting Copenhagen, my hometown. (I have lived in CA for close to two decades.' I regret to say that I find the translation by Nadia Christensen to be below average - I spotted several sentences where she has 'Englishfied' the Danish which to my biased ears makes the words sound like a violin out of tune. 'yes, only someone bi-lingual would be able to spot this.' I believe the translation does Hoeg's book a great disservice. Translating is a difficult and ungrateful task, but that does not get Nadia Christensen off the hook. 'I don't know if she is American or Danish or of Danish/American - there is a big difference.' The novel is not flawless and like his 'Smilla's Sense of Snow' novel from 1993 it becomes far less intriguing to me once it goes into thriller mode. The characters, the theories presented, the atmosphere, the almost magic realism are the interesting part, but perhaps Hoeg knew that his books would sell more if written and marketed as literary thrillers as opposed to literature. The result however is that readers unfamilar with his previous work will buy 'The Quiet Girl' thinking they have a Tom Clancy or Robert Ludlum type of story on their hands, then feel misled and disappointed when they realize that the novel is a whole different kind of animal. Hoeg cannot be put into any neat little box and this confuses some critics and readers, but he has a loyal following 'Danish and non-Danish' who recognize him for what he is: Denmark's finest contemporary author. He is treated with a mix of awe and envy in sometimes progressive, sometimes narrowminded Denmark which is something he shares with his fellow Great Danes Karen Blixen aka Isak Dinesen and Hans Christian Andersen. Thus he is in fine company. I give it four stars: it's not flawless and the translation is poor. However, it's still a Hoeg novel and deserves to be read.
After reading 'Smilla's Sense of Snow' and the reviews that this book received, I was really anxious to read it. What a disappointment. The book is confusing, very hard to follow and frankly, I just gave up once I reached the middle and found that I would rather do some serious hemming than continue to read this book.