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The Woman And The Ape

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No one will ever be able to claim that HÝeg doesn't know how to hook a reader. The newest ecothriller by the author of Smilla's Sense of Snow opens with the deceptively simple sentence: "An ape was approaching London." What the vague syntax and flat affect omit could (and does) fill a book. For instance, the "ape"-who's dubbed Erasmus-turns out not to be "some sort of dwarf chimpanzee" as eminent zoologist Adam Burden claims, but a brand new species of ape that just might have the potential for language and higher cognitive functions. The opening line gives little indication of the hubbub Erasmus will raise in a few short paragraphs when he causes the Ark, the ship that has carried him captive to London, to lose its crew and plow mast-first into busy St. Katharine's Dock. Or, a few pages later, when he leads Dr. Burden and his minions on a merry chase through the streets of London. Or, a couple of chapters down the road, when Erasmus seduces Madelene, who just happens to be Burden's beautiful alcoholic wife, and takes her away for a week-long lovefest at a wild animal park. The first line gives no indication of all this because the story and its characters are mere window-dressing for HÝeg. While he's a fluid writer who is competent at telling stories, it's in the realm of ideas that he excels. There are long passages in which he analyzes Erasmus and human emotions and London itself in terms that are by turns mechanistic and organic. On one page, London is a "gigantic mycelium," a fungus. On a later page, we discover that London is a worn-out machine," full of blind spots and flat points." At the end of this fine and diverting novel, Madelene explains how she's always pictured angels, and her definition could as easily stand for Erasmus or London or even the Earth. "It's one third god, one third animal, and one third human." 100,000 first printing; major ad/promo. (Dec.) FYI: The movie version of Smilla's Sense of Snow, starring Julia Ormond and Gabriel Byrne, is scheduled for release in March 1997.

""The Woman and the Ape" has many arrestingly stylish and inventive passages and an overall brilliance of tone that shows once again the originality of Mr. Ho eg's voice."--"The New York Times" "No imaginative writer working today is any more daring than Danish novelist Peter Ho eg. . . . An utterly original mix of fantasy, fable, myth, and love story."--"Booklist"

From Smilla's Sense of Snow to Borderliners to A History of Danish Dreams, Danish novelist HÝeg has maintained a sharp sense of social critique that, refreshingly, is not wittily dismisive but earnest without being heavy-handed. And what better way to show up human heartlessness and pretension, particularly of the ruling classes, than in our treatment of animals? In this swift-paced, lacerating new work, an ape brought illegally to England ends up at the home of Madelene, a Danish woman married to Adam Burden, director of the Institute of Animal Behavioral Research. Madelene is young, fresh, and deeply alcoholic, but through the glassy haze that HÝeg describes so effectively‘from the inside out, not simply for dramatic effect but almost as an aesthetic experience, like being in a crystal cage‘she can tell the ape is in danger. Madelene sets out to rescue the ape from her coldly calculating husband and his even more frigid sister and, in the process, rescues herself. That is the only predictable aspect of this thought-provoking work, which is too fresh in its writing and its perceptions to fall into the sentimentality one might expect. An air of freedom surrounds Madelene's eventual abduction by the ape, and though their sexual involvment may seem over the top to some readers, you can't help but be carried along by HÝeg's convictions. Don't think King Kong; this is much subtler. Highly recommended. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 7/96.]‘Barbara Hoffert, "Library Journal"

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