Elephant trips on a tangled tale
The Elephant Keepers’ Children
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