Erasmus the humanist
THE WOMAN AND THE APE by Peter Hoeg trs Barbara Haveland, Harvill pounds 15.99/pounds 9.99
Sunday 26 January 1997
Here the pecking order is so rigid, the toffs so inhuman and bloodless, the press so hog-tied by those in high places (tell that to the Windsors) that a species of super-intelligent anthropoid ape - which hails from an island off the coast of Hoeg's native Denmark - has to be recruited to sort us all out.
Hoeg's heroine is a Danish alcoholic beauty called Madelene, who doesn't just tipple sherry in the pantry but swills beakers full of ethyl alcohol in the potting shed. She is driven from the sanctuary of her Hampstead mansion on a mission of animal rights. Her minimally sketched, aristocratic British husband is about to be appointed head of a revamped London Zoo, and his trump card for promotion is Erasmus the Ape, a previously undiscovered species he has illegally snatched from its Danish habitat and hidden in Hampstead to conduct nasty secret tests. This man hates animals.
Weary of her own alcoholic imprisonment, Madelene does not just free the ape and throw away the beaker, but she also falls dizzily in love with Erasmus, and is carried off in his hairy arms via London's overhead "telegraph wires".
Hoeg has serious environmental and Darwinian questions to ask (the main one being, where does the human in us end and the animal begin?). But it is curious that he tries to satirise a place with which he seems to have such a hazy acquaintance. He may have done research on the politics of London Zoo, and Madelene's sister-in-law, a sort of Cruella De Vil with zoology degrees, spouts fascinating facts about London wildlife (apparently there are 10,000 distinct species). But Hoeg has clearly never lived in Britain long enough to be a witty commentator. Bill Bryson wasn't made in a day.
Pockets of this translation are also awkward - not just infelicitous but paradoxical or puzzling. What does it mean, for instance, for a Javanese rhinoceros to be "gentle and querulous"? Or for a man to increase a Doberman's "stroke volume"? Does he pet it more? Force-feed it cholesterol? It may be an unjust inference, but it is noticeable that Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow, Hoeg's one clear winner, is the only one of his books which does not have this translator.
Still, it wasn't her idea to send up the British, or to dress up the ape and strip the girl in broad farce. Hoeg is too interesting a thinker for his book ever to be dull, but, in this project, his ideas could have done with a judicious bout of natural selection.
By opportunistic local hoping to exhibit the work
Fans will be hoping the role finally wins him an Oscar
What do gigantic horse heads tell us about Falkirk?
Finnish Postal Service praises the 'self irony and humour' of the drawings
The actor has confessed to his own insecurities
Allotments are the focus of a new reality show
Kylie Minogue quits The Voice UK
Review: Half of A Yellow Sun
Arts & Ents blogs
Game of Thrones season 4, episode 2, TV review: 'Purple Wedding' shock for viewers as King Joffrey marries Margaery Tyrell
The best movies on Netflix: 32 films that will end your endless scrolling
Game of Thrones season 4 episode 2 breaks torrent record as fans watch online
King Joffrey: Jack Gleeson retires from acting after season 4 Game of Thrones
Game of Thrones season 4 episode 2 sees fans jubilant over King Joffrey's 'Purple Wedding'
David Cameron: 'Jesus invented the Big Society – I'm just continuing God's work'
US Navy christens huge $3 billion destroyer ship USS Zumwalt that appears as a fishing boat on enemy radar
Nigel Farage fatigue? Half of voters ‘immune’ to Ukip’s appeal
The food poverty scandal that shames Britain: Nearly 1m people rely on handouts to eat – and benefit reforms may be to blame
Nigel Farage on Have I Got News For You: Ukip leader ridiculed over expenses and party 'fruitcakes'
Scottish independence: It is the English who should be on their knees, begging the Scots to vote ‘No’
- 1 Refugee facing deportation from Sweden saved by fellow passengers refusing to let plane leave
- 2 The best movies on Netflix: 32 films that will end your endless scrolling
- 3 Naked yoga: the bare truth - it's already big in the US, and has now landed here
- 4 24 people applied for the 'world's toughest job', here are their interviews
- 5 Drugs giant GlaxoSmithKline bribed doctors to boost sales, says whistleblower