A History of Peter Høeg’s Dreams

No one can say Peter Høeg’s books are boring. I have quite a few, both in English and Danish, and I wouldn’t say the English ones are a whole lot easier to understand than the Danish ones (huge exaggeration there for dramatic effect, my Danish is crap!)

Some are quite normal, Miss Smilla’s Feeling For Snow is a good quality, Nordic crime thriller. The Woman And The Ape was weird with alcoholic women falling in love with a new species of intelligent monkey that was actually quite touching, but The History Of Danish Dreams has blown my mind and at no point did I know where it was going.

The books is made up of three parts, the first details the very strange childhood of the major characters. For example, the father of Carl declares time will stop within the bounds of his castle as people don’t so much die as melt into the walls, a la The Flying Dutchman ship in Pirates Of The Caribbean. Another is daughter of a house where a newspaper is produced by people who struggle to read as they made their money as night soil people (poo collectors), and once a year the local people are invited into the home as it was ‘at that time possibly Denmark’s grandest premises for shitting in’ and in keeping with the theme of time that runs through all the parts, the Amalie’s father is obsessed with time, and plans his day down to the last half second. He is the time and motion study man that assembly lines everywhere would love to employ.

Mixed in with all the weirdness are some actual events and actual Danish people, some very dead and gone, some still living when the book was published in 1988. Often you see a disclaimer pronouncing that any similarity between the characters and any person living is coincidence, but in this book there is a handy list of them at the back, and what they did, so no one can be in any doubt.

And finally, a note about Høeg that I love. The first line of his bio in a few of the editions of his books that I have is this –

Peter Høeg was born in 1957 and followed various callings — dancer, actor, fencer, sailor, mountaineer — before he turned seriously to writing.

This not only tells us a lot about how Høeg’s unique mind works, but also about Denmark. That list of jobs would not be something to shout about in the UK without being classed by some as a flaky weirdo, but other nations seem far more tolerant, even encouraging of those having a bash.


Peter never knows when the rhythm is going to get him, so keeps his joints supple and the clothes from his dancing days close at hand.


Peter likes to practise his shadow puppet acting skills in-between chapters, in a room so uncluttered it makes Goethe look like a subject for an edition of ‘Hoarders’.


Goethe’s mountains of clutter.

(I don’t know about you, but pictures of minimalist rooms make me want to have a massive clear out! Except books, as course. Collectively, they count as one item.)