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Like Peter Hoeg's last novel, the best-selling "Smilla's Sense of Snow," "Borderliners" is one of those books that functions on two levels.
The biggest difference between the two novels -- and it is a huge one -- has to do with language and tone. Whereas "Smilla" boasted a marvelously eccentric narrator, who related her story in wry, impatient prose, "Borderliners" features an evasive and depressed narrator, who cloaks his anxiety in windy, metaphysical asides.
The result? As a reader gradually discovers, "Borderliners" is narrated by a man named Peter, who not only shares the author's first name but also says he was adopted by a family named Hoeg when he was The story Peter relates takes place in the 's and early 70's, in the years before his adoption. The fictional Peter tells us that he spent his early years at a series of institutions for orphans: first a home for infants, then a children's home, a reform school and a school for troubled but academically gifted children.
The last was known as Crusty House, Peter says, because of the crusts the students "had to make do with instead of proper bread. The portrait Peter draws of Biehl's makes the school seem like a miniature police state: children are monitored day and night by a strict and unforgiving staff, and transgressions are punished with reprimands, blows and beatings.
Peter soon begins to suspect that there is a secret "plan" behind the school's strict regimen, a plan he determines to expose. In the course of his troubled tenure at Biehl's, Peter manages to make two friends he will treasure for the rest of his life: Katarina, a beautiful girl with whom he promptly falls in love, and August, a psychotic boy whom he adopts as a kind of son.
In retrospect, Peter observes, his love for Katarina and August has taught him the meaning of family and responsibility; it has given him hope and the will to live.
With the help of Katarina and August, Peter begins to conduct an investigation of the school. He suggests, in portentous asides to the reader, that some sort of Darwinian experiment is being conducted with the students. As evidence, he cites some disturbing incidents: a student's attempt to cut off his own tongue, the administration of sedatives to August, the concealment of student records. Although Mr.
Hoeg is intermittently able to use such incidents to orchestrate a sense of narrative tension, one later learns that many of them are little more than deliberately placed red herrings, a realization that leaves the reader with a vague sense of dissatisfaction.
To make matters worse, Peter embroiders his story with stilted and pretentious musings about the nature of time. It is too overwhelming for that. You have to begin more simply. What does it mean -- to measure time? What is a timepiece? And you have to sense that within or behind this change there is also something that was present before. The perception of time is the inexplicable union in the consciousness of change and constancy. These highly abstract soliloquies are apparently meant to add resonance to Peter's story, and to underscore one of the novel's central themes concerning the dehumanizing effects of science and the scientific method.
Unfortunately they have another effect entirely: they weigh the story down, turning what might have been a deeply affecting story about a young boy's painful coming of age into a lugubrious and strangely impersonal allegory. View on timesmachine. TimesMachine is an exclusive benefit for home delivery and digital subscribers. To preserve these articles as they originally appeared, The Times does not alter, edit or update them.
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BOOKS OF THE TIMES; From a Sense of Snow to a Tussle With Time
Like Peter Hoeg's last novel, the best-selling "Smilla's Sense of Snow," "Borderliners" is one of those books that functions on two levels. The biggest difference between the two novels -- and it is a huge one -- has to do with language and tone. Whereas "Smilla" boasted a marvelously eccentric narrator, who related her story in wry, impatient prose, "Borderliners" features an evasive and depressed narrator, who cloaks his anxiety in windy, metaphysical asides. The result? As a reader gradually discovers, "Borderliners" is narrated by a man named Peter, who not only shares the author's first name but also says he was adopted by a family named Hoeg when he was The story Peter relates takes place in the 's and early 70's, in the years before his adoption.
PETER HOEG'S NEW TALE OF TIME, TRAUMA AND CHARACTER
A riveting departure from the Danish author whose novel Smilla's Sense of Snow was last year's surprising international bestseller. The narrator is a young man named Peter who recounts how he survived growing up in Danish orphanages and reform schools. Written in short blocks of concentrated text, the narrative skips around from memories of his childhood to meditations on the philosophy and history of time. At 14, after years of unhappily drifting through the institutional system, Peter and several other borderliners are given one last chance when they are transferred to an exclusive private school where, unknown to them, they have been sent in order to be guinea pigs in a secret government experiment where troubled students are integrated with regular, privileged students.
Borderliners by Peter Høeg
The narrator of "Borderliners," Peter Hoeg's new novel, is a man whose lifelong obsession with time-its history, physics and meaning-frames his account of a childhood trauma that nearly destroyed his life. In this brooding, austere tale, set in a state-run orphanage and a prosperous private school, we witness the subtle tyranny of adults and its consequences, both real and imagined, through the eyes of the pupils and wards. That the dissection and manipulation of time should dominate a story by Hoeg will come as no surprise to fans of his previous novel, "Smilla's Sense of Snow," a haunting thriller with an extravagant plot, a large cast of characters-all memorable-and a rich accretion of geographic and medical lore that might have fleshed out half a dozen books. Hoeg asserted impressive control over the suspense of that narrative-praised for its transcendence of genre-through an unorthodox use of chronology, often withholding crucial events for an agonizing length of time or pushing the reader to and fro, almost capriciously, within a space of hours or even minutes. Equally impressive was the novel's vivid heroine, Smilla Jasperson, lover of fashion and physics, an acerbic loner whose feral affinity for the elements lands her in a high-stakes scientific conspiracy.
It is about three children — Peter, Katerina, and August — who attend a private school in Copenhagen in the mid s. It is not long before the children realise they are part of an experiment initiated by the school. The objective is to show how damaged children can be saved and converted into fine citizens. The children choose to fight the experiment. Peter is a student at Biehl's after spending all of his life in children's homes and reform schools. He is a borderline case, along with Katarina, whose parents both died in the past year, and August, who is severely disturbed after killing his abusive parents.