Synopsis: When a small Inuit boy, Isaiah is found dead after having fallen off the roof of her apartment building, Smilla suspects his death was not an accident. The half Inuit Smilla had become very close to the boy and she becomes obsessed with finding the truth about his death.
In a weird way it reminded me of the first X-files movie with Smilla stepping in as the obsessed Mulder. Like Mulder, she is bold, impulsive and reckless in her pursuit of the truth and of course there’s a final journey into the Arctic Circle. I was half expecting, throughout the book, for Aliens to be waiting at the end and interestingly that turned out to be not too far off.
It has a unique tone. I’d probably describe it as a mystery/thriller but it’s like a thriller on mute – all the action and high emotion being viewed through a layer of ice which in turn evokes the cold forbidding environment of Denmark and Greenland. Everything cold and moving slowly and bluntly forward; the tension creeping up inexorably as it draws towards the end. The biggest surprise is the numerous bursts of humor - still understated and dry but at times laugh out loud funny and absurd. Despite an overall air of abstraction everything seems very real – the characters, the settings, the things that happen. It’s this strange contradictory layering that sets the book apart.
Smilla also lends the story her unique personality. She seems like someone who is normally very detached from the world, very confused about her place in it, until the death of Isaiah awakens a fierce drive in her. Her very detachment and rebellion against authority make her the perfect pursuer of justice – she is cowed by no one and nothing, though she is usually shaking in her shoes. And then there’s the Mechanic, who loved Isaiah too, and who slips under her emotional defenses. The Mechanic’s motivations are never really clear. I suppose you could say he’s conflicted but it becomes unbelievable that he continues to cooperate as damning evidence and personal danger mount.
It has a strange, unfinished ending which somehow fits the book. I’m not sure I ever grasped the significance of what was found and what motivated the villains of the story. How were the meteorite and the mutated arctic worm linked and what was the significance? I’m not sure but I was not overly disappointed as it fit.
It was a satisfying read; thought-provoking, funny, eventually compelling and incredibly atmospheric. It wasn’t a page-turner for me but I was engaged with the mystery. Most important is Smilla, which made this book so unique and I think will ensure that it stays with me for a long time.