Planet of the canapes

Roger Clarke on a simian satire; The Woman and the Ape by Peter Hoeg, Harvill, pounds 15.99

Peter Hoeg is Denmark's most celebrated literary export since Hans Christian Andersen and Soren Kierkegaard. Pitched between these two extremes of naive metaphor and dour fatalism lies Hoeg's demesne, where rather chilling, fairy-tale-like things happen in anti-authoritarian contexts.

Hoeg's new book will shock the more sedate purchasers of his icy bestseller, Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow. Its theme is superficially controversial: Madelene, the alcoholic Danish wife of upper-class English conservationalist Adam Burden, runs off to live in a London park with a new species of ape, pongo hominoides londiniensis. But this isn't an exploration of bestiality in the style of, say, Walerian Borowczyk's zoophile films.

No; this is Fay Wray in Shakespeare's forest of Arden. This is farce, this is satire. This is Oshima's 1987 chimp-fancying film Max Mon Amour (Charlotte Rampling spurns diplomat husband for an ape) given social rather than sexual teeth. This is Planet of the Apes re-written by Adam Mars- Jones. Could it be, implies Hoeg, that the Queen of England is an ape?

Why Hoeg has chosen to satirise the British class system, about which he knows very little, is a mystery. His portraits of cockney yobs and over-bred toffs are ludicrous caricatures. But we are in the land of heavy metaphor. His London is an unrecognisable city viewed through a kaleidoscope of that puzzling and half-cocked literary genre, magic realism.

The opening scene: a sailing ship hoves into Wapping's docklands like something out of the pseudo-Elizabethan passages in Eliot's The Waste Land. On board a new kind of ape is being smuggled. Shaved and made articulate, it later passes for a human being called (Darwin reference) Erasmus. Erasmus's journey through the undergrowth of London - depicted as awash with carnivorous predators - and his redemption of Madelene is the core of the book.

Hoeg comes across as a maverick with a hippy social conscience in this and earlier books. When he writes about "feudalistic class supremacy" you can tell he doesn't like it, and Adam seems disliked by his creator not for any moral lapse but for having genteel table manners, the result of "400 years of evolution". When the hue and cry goes up after Madelene and Erasmus elope, Hoeg unleashes his most direct attack. Erasmus was "like the Falklands war only on a smaller scale, a dragon, an economy- sized King-Kong tailor-made for taking the public mind off such problems as the general decline and impoverishment of the city, race riots and widespread crime".

I couldn't help but be disappointed by Hoeg's book, which is shapeless and confused, didactic and dreamy at the same time. I found his take on British social structures frankly risible, like a bad male writer trying hard to write female roles. His oblique jousting against colonial attitudes and snooty expats, monied families and corrupt government is all very worthy but it never rings true. When the story becomes a tale of racial/genetic identity and a fable about education (with the ape educated like Frankenstein's monster), the more interesting violent and sexual strands have petered out. I look forward to Martin Amis going over to Denmark to draw conclusions from their biker gangs with rocket launchers, their beastie porn and their anarchistic drugs commune, Christiania, in the heart of Copenhagen.

I far prefer the bizarre denouement of a little-known book by John Collier, published in 1931: His Monkey wife, or, Married to a Chimp. This hairy bride snuffs out the nuptial candle with a "prehensile foot" before the wedding night begins. Hoeg, essentially a puritan, would never have such a decadent detail in this unnecessarily wholesome book.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift won Best International Solo Female (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Shining star: Maika Monroe, with Jake Weary, in ‘It Follows’
film review
Arts and Entertainment

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith arrives at the Brit Awards (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn's beheading in BBC Two's Wolf Hall

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Follow every rainbow: Julie Andrews in 'The Sound of Music'
film Elizabeth Von Trapp reveals why the musical is so timeless
Arts and Entertainment
Bytes, camera, action: Leehom Wang in ‘Blackhat’
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Libertines will headline this year's festival
music
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Dean Anderson in the original TV series, which ran for seven seasons from 1985-1992
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Muscling in: Noah Stewart and Julia Bullock in 'The Indian Queen'

opera
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TVViewers predict what will happen to Miller and Hardy
Arts and Entertainment
Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright in season two of the series

Watch the new House of Cards series three trailer

TV
Arts and Entertainment
An extract from the sequel to Fight Club

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant, Eve Myles and Olivia Colman in Broadchurch series two

TV Review
Arts and Entertainment
Old dogs are still learning in 'New Tricks'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
'Tonight we honour Hollywood’s best and whitest – sorry, brightest' - and other Neil Patrick Harris Oscars jokes

Oscars 2015It was the first time Barney has compered the Academy Awards

Arts and Entertainment
Patricia Arquette making her acceptance speech for winning Best Actress Award

Oscars 2015 From Meryl Streep whooping Patricia Arquette's equality speech to Chris Pine in tears

Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

    Climate change key in Syrian conflict

    And it will trigger more war in future
    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
    Is this the way to get young people to vote?

    Getting young people to vote

    From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
    Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

    Poldark star Heida Reed

    'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
    Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

    Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

    Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
    Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
    With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

    Money, corruption and drugs

    The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
    America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

    150 years after it was outlawed...

    ... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
    Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

    You won't believe your eyes

    Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
    Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn