Elephant trips on a tan­gled tale

The Elephant Keep­ers’ Chil­dren

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books - Owen Richard­son

By Peter Hoeg Harvill Secker, 400pp, $32.95

ALTHOUGH Dan­ish nov­el­ist Peter Hoeg has writ­ten six nov­els since Miss Smilla’s Feel­ing for Snow was a hit in the early 1990s, he is still best known for that book, which was a mys­tery story and for many read­ers an in­tro­duc­tion to Scan­di­navia, the fas­ci­na­tions of which con­tinue undimmed.

The Elephant Keep­ers’ Chil­dren is also a mys­tery and quest. It opens on the Dan­ish is­land of Fino and is nar­rated by 14-year-old Peter, son of the pas­tor and his or­gan­ist wife. One morn­ing Peter and his sis­ter Tilte wake up to find their par­ents are miss­ing. Their dis­ap­pear­ance is re­lated to some fi­nan­cial mis­fea­sance: they were unortho­dox, in­deed flam­boy­ant, peo­ple of the church.

The chil­dren are taken into care, though not for long: they es­cape eas­ily enough and go in search of their par­ents.

Also on the is­land is a Bud­dhist monastery headed by one Leonora Tick­lepalate, a com­puter sci­en­tist with a side­line in phone sex, and a re­hab cen­tre run by a bi­sex­ual ex-junkie called Count Rickardt Three Lions. There are other characters called Bodil Hip­popota­mus, Sinbad Al-Blab­blab and Thork­ild Thor­lacius. There are ec­cen­tric sci­en­tists and high-class call girls who dress as Greek god­desses and gang­sters and the lord knows what.

As the names sug­gest, this novel is set in its

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