‘The Quiet Girl’ by Peter Hoeg, one of best books ever written? #goodbooks

Peter Hoeg the Danish author has a new book out called The Elephant Keepers’ Children. I am about to buy it, but I was surprised to read in the Telegraph’s Review section (Saturday October 6) that his novel The Quiet Girl  published in 2006 had been poorly received.

I think The Quiet Girl is the most satisfying novel I have read as an adult (best nature book ‘Otter Country by Miriam Darlington). A contemplative approach apparently informs his working practices, and that would suggest to me that The Quiet Girl was ahead of its time. With Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury stressing the centrality of contemplation as a key to renewed humanity and a new way of seeing in recent weeks, The Quiet Girl deserves another look.

One of the things I like about the book is the way the author sees and hears the world. The book is impossible to classify in terms of genre. It is like a riddle, and like all good riddles I am not going to try and explain it.

The main character, Kasper, like the author, is deeply attentive to the world. There is a razor sharp discerning, balanced with an open awareness to the things our culture offers us, both low and high. Kasper knows things. He knows the mystics, the clowns, the philosophers, the composers alongside knowing alcohol inside out, the holes in our souls, and the shadows that accompany us.

It is a spiritual book as well as being deeply focused on material reality in all its mysteriousness. It is both aware of icons and orthodoxy, and also for some it will seem iconoclastic and unafraid of heresies. The Quiet Girl has one of the best opening lines I have read. ‘SHE ALMIGHTY HAD tuned each person into a musical key, and Kasper could hear it.’ Everything flows out of this opening key.

Peter Hoeg knows music, and makes the reader want to know music in the same way, to indwell it as  Kasper does. He recognizes an ‘icon of sounds’ when he hears it. There are throwaway lines on prayer, the ego and being special, on philosophy and music that are worth the price of the book alone as meditations.

But I come back to the seeing. This is a book written by a contemplative human, and it is the most satisfyingly complex and deeply human book I have read as an adult. In 2006 it may have fallen quietly to the ground. But today? Today I think it will begin to resonate. As for the heroine, the quiet girl herself, I will give nothing away. Read it and see for yourself. Find the silence.

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