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Literature / Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow

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Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow (also known as Smilla's Sense of Snow in the US and as Frøken Smillas fornemmelse for sne in the original Danish) is a widely-acclaimed 1992 novel by Peter Høeg.

Smilla Qaaviqaaq Jaspersen is an highly introverted and bloody-minded half Greenlandic/half Danish woman living in Copenhagen. One of her few (possibly her only) friend is her neighbour's son Isaiah who is also Greenlandic. When he falls to his death from their apartment building she is suspicious. Isaiah suffered from vertigo and when she sees his tracks on the roof, her intuitive understanding of snow shows her that he was running for his life. Despite hostility from the authorities she begins to investigate, leading her back to Greenland and a far-reaching conspiracy.

Written in the first person, the novel deals with themes of alienation, post-colonialism and how people survive mentally in societies they find inimical.

Smilla's Sense of Snow, a film adaptation directed by Bille August and featuring Julia Ormond in the title role, was released in 1997.

Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow provides examples of:

  • The Alcoholic: Juliane and Birgo.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: A couple of people who are mentioned in passing during Smilla's description of Isaiah's funeral turn out to be involved in the conspiracy that resulted in his death.
  • Chekhov's Skill: It's mentioned in passing, as part of an explanation about something else, that Peter Føjl did military service that included experience scuba diving in arctic conditions. This turns out to be very important after the action shifts to Greenland.
  • Combat Pragmatist: Smilla Jaspersen has a history of winning against people much bigger and stronger than her. She stabs a man in the neck with a screwdriver when her tries to kidnap her, and topples a shelf onto a person she thinks is following her in the filing room of an office building. She also forces her stepmother to listen to her demands by pinching her in the crotch and bending her pinky finger all the way back. Apparently she's been this way all her life. She beat up a racist school bully much larger than her by finding out where he lived and ambushing him early in the morning, sending him to the hospital. When her father, a noted surgeon, tried to grab her and drag her home after she ran away at the age of twelve, she cut him with a scalpel she stole from the hospital she escaped from. When she is trapped on a ship with the vaguely psychopathic character Jakkelsen, she makes a weapon from a towel and a ball bearing, and injures him badly enough that he needs medical attention. However, she is always described as a petite and delicate woman. She is the narrator, by the way.
  • Determinator: Smilla's determination to find the truth behind Isaiah's death keeps her going despite all the obstacles thrown in her path, even after the authorities threaten to arrest her if she keeps poking about and the villains use more direct methods to warn her off and eventually straight-up try to kill her. Near the end of the novel, she muses that she may be clinging to her quest because it's the first time she's had such a clear sense of purpose, and wonders what will happen once the purpose is fulfulled; significantly, the novel ends without showing how she answers that question.
  • Dumbwaiter Ride: Smilla gets into the private cabin on the ship by squeezing herself, with some difficulty, into the little elevator that carries the meals up from the galley.
  • Foreshadowing: Near the end of the novel, Smilla strips down and takes stock of the injuries she's acquired over the course of her investigation, and mentions in passing that she's chosen to keep her socks on. Later, after she's been captured by the villains, it turns out she had her pass-key hidden in her sock so they wouldn't find it when they searched her.
  • Halfway Plot Switch: A routine murder mystery trope dives off the deep-end into X-Files-esque killer bug from space about halfway through the novel.
  • Huge Guy, Tiny Girl: Peter is described as being wide like a bear and tall enough to bang his head on door frames; Smilla is 52.
  • Improvised Weapon: Several occurances, like the towel+ball bearing, and the two plastic scalpels taped together to make a more durable weapon.
  • In Medias Res:
    • The first section of the novel begins with Isaiah's funeral, backs up to tell the story of Isaiah's life, his death, and the beginning of Smilla's investigation, and ends when it reaches the day of the funeral.
    • This structure is also echoed in several individual chapters, which begin with the most dramatic event in the chapter before filling in how Smilla got there from the end of the previous chapter.
  • Mutilation Conga: Smilla acquires quite a few injuries in the course of her investigation, and there's a scene shortly before the climax where she pauses in front of a mirror and takes stock of them all.
  • No Ending: We last see Smilla pursuing the book's villain across the Greenlandic icecap, but the book abruptly ends before the Final Battle usual in such stories can happen. The narration does point out that the villain is doomed, with the ice and the freezing water and the approaching blizzard poised to get him if Smilla doesn't, but deliberately refrains from giving tidy closure by saying which one gets him in the end. It also leaves several other important questions unanswered, including which theory about the MacGuffin is correct and what's in the future for Smilla's relationship with Peter.
  • No Name Given: Several times Smilla mentions her brother, who had committed suicide several years earlier, but never by name.
  • Older Than They Look: Smilla thinks Birgo is a teenager until he clarifies that hes actually 33 years old with three kids.
  • Shout-Out: During the discussion of the theories about the meteor, Tørk name-drops H. G. Wells, Jules Verne's The Chase of the Golden Meteor, and H. Beam Piper's Uller Uprising.
  • Waif-Fu: Smilla is not what she seems.
  • Walk on Water: The title character has an almost psychic ability to read snow and ice. Thus she can walk on a half frozen sea because she can see which ice patches will support her weight and which won't. The onlookers are suitably impressed.

Alternative Title(s): Smillas Sense Of Snow