Before Peter Hoeg wrote his bestselling "Smilla's Sense of Snow," he crafted eight intriguing short stories in "Tales of the Night." It's a tangle of the heart and mind, art and culture, with a dark atmosphere and very good writing. Certainly it's far above the average short story collection.
In eight different parts of the world, eight different stories are unfolding on ht evening of March 19, 1929. A young Danish mathematician learns more about the conquest of Africa, when he finds himself on a train with Joseph Conrad and General von Lettow-Vorbeck. A ballet dancer loves and learns about reality. A judge finds himself falling madly in love with a man he's just jailed... for homosexual behavior. A small town is swept by a smallpox epidemic. And through these dark stories run a flurry of artists, students, scientists, Nazis and lovers.
Peter Hoeg is a writer for people who like their books deep and intense. There isn't a light or fluffy moment in the whole book. In a way, "Tales of the Night" is all about love. We see love in all its different forms -- pain, learning, redemption and fear. While it isn't obvious at first, the depths of Hoeg's writing becomes clearer on the second or third time around.
Hoeg's writing is beautiful -- very thick and slow, and almost dreamlike. It's not something to be read quickly. He weaves in a lot of symbolism and philosophy, without making them "message stories." And at the same time, since the book is set in 1929, he includes some of the political rumblings that came before war.
The characters of Hoeg's stories are all loners. Whether they're travellers, lovers, or artists, they all seem to be enclosed in little private bubbles. Not to mention a bit repressed and wrapped up in their own thoughts. Some of them are the sort of people you would despise in real life, but he gives them a sense of humanity and depth.
Peter Hoeg was still a newbie writer when he penned "Tales of the Night," but his writing already had polish and depth. Beautiful, dark and sad.