Monday, 17 March 2014

Re-Reading a Favourite Book: "Borderliners" by Peter Hoeg

Remember I posted about Library Thing and the book groups you can join there?

As part of one group's subject challenge... to read around the theme of "education".... I've just finished re-reading a favourite of mine from the 1990s: Borderliners by Danish writer Peter Hoeg.

Set in Denmark in the early 1970s, the story is narrated from the viewpoint of one of the "borderline" children of the title: three damaged adolescents placed in an elite boarding school as part of a secret experiment in social integration by the Danish Education department. Peter and Katarina, the elder pair, try to look after the third and youngest - August - who is deeply damaged from a life of abuse at the hands of his own parents. Not knowing that they are the subjects of a social experiment, they observe their teachers and those in authority with feral detail in their efforts to interpret a survival pattern for themselves as individuals and as some kind of distorted family group. Their paranoia (if you like) also drives them deep into esoteric theories concerning time. It is a concern that stays with the narrator into adulthood and life in the "laboratory".... his term for everyday life and domesticity. These aspects make the book difficult to read. Some reviews love this complexity and originality... some see it as affectation. Whatever... I found reading Borderliners still to be an intense and moving experience. The book remains a favourite of mine and its denouement is both tragic and triumphant.

I also loved Hoeg's previous novel - Miss Smilla's Feeling For Snow which is the book that brought Heog to the attention of the popular reading public. And which I now realise heralded my passion for Scandi-Noir as it falls more easily into the category of crime fiction. But each book Hoeg writes is different. In Borderliners he seems perhaps to have been at the forefront in writing about the damage wrought by institutional abuse (a subject now all too familiar to the contemporary reader) and in writing from the point of view of the psychological outsider. (If you enjoyed Stieg Larsson's Girl With The Dragon Tattoo you may realise how it's anti-hero Lisbeth Salander became who she was... after Hoeg's account of childrens homes, schools and psychological and physical abuse.)

Borderliners is currently "out of print" as I write this. But it is available - either secondhand or as a "print on demand" item - from various sellers via AbeBooks.

No comments: