Peter Høeg’s Smilla More Than Just Snow & Ice — There’s Ship Action, Too!

Smilla's Sense of Snow by Peter Høeg (
Started reading it: January 8, 2018

The first book I read for the #TBR2018RBR Challenge is Smilla’s Sense of Snow (1992) by Peter Høeg. I read it in January and am a bit behind on writing about what I’ve been reading, but had to share some thoughts about this one.

This international bestseller first crossed my path back in the early aughts, shortly after I started working at Borders. A coworker recommended Smilla’s Sense of Snow after she found out I love snow, all things winter, and was just getting into mysteries.

It’s taken me seventeen *cough* years to get to it and I’m so glad I finally did. Thanks to Jennifer for first recommending it and to Adam for hosting the challenge that got me into reading action.

If you love snow, ice, and a good thriller, don’t delay, read it now. What I didn’t know about this novel is that there’s some ship action, too.

But first, the snow. It all starts in Copenhagen when a young boy, I think he’s six, dies after falling/jumping off of a building. For the authorities, its an open and shut case of accidental death. But Smilla, who was a neighbor and friend of the boy, knows he was afraid of heights and would never have been “playing” on a roof. And his footprints in the snow tell her a story that other’s can’t see: he ran toward the edge of the roof top.  Smilla is a scientist whose field of expertise is snow and ice. She grew up in Greenland with a mother who was a traditional semi-nomadic hunter and has a deep understanding of snow and ice. There are many interesting bits of snow and ice knowledge scattered throughout the novel.

The mystery proceeds with Smilla asking questions about the boy’s autopsy. One question leads to more questions. She asks too many questions of too many people and ends up almost dead a time or two or three. And that’s where the ship action comes in. She goes to visit someone onboard a ship and later ends up posing as a worker on a ship. 

Smilla is a tough loner who doesn’t trust or like people. She reminds me of Lisbeth Salander of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. That novel came out in 2005, thirteen years after Smilla, and I bet Stieg Larsson read it.

This is the sort of mystery/thriller that doesn’t explain itself or overshare in the details of what’s going on. The first part of the book is a rather traditional, straightforward plot. The second half becomes a bit dis-jointed, which at first was interesting and then got a bit trying at times. Others might find that style exciting. The edition I read has 469 pages and there were about 100 pages toward the end where I had to nudge myself to keep going. But don’t let that dissuade you from picking up this novel — overall, it’s an excellent read.

Julia Ormond in Smilla's Sense of Snow (
Julia Ormond in Smilla’s Sense of Snow

I also watched the 1997 movie adaptation with the same title staring Julia Ormond with Gabriel Byrne, Richard Harris, and Vanessa Redgrave. Its a faithful adaptation with gorgeous scenes shot in Greenland.

According to the short special features segment on the DVD I checked out of the library, this was the first major film shot in Greenland. As a land of extreme weather and cold, filming was a challenge. At times it got so cold that the film crew wrapped the cameras in blankets in an attempt to keep the batteries from freezing. I was happy to see the ship scenes included in the film.

If you enjoy podcasts/audio, BBC Radio 4 recently hosted Peter Høeg on their Bookclub program specifically to discuss this novel. Click here to listen

Title: Smilla’s Sense of Snow
Original Title: Frøken Smillas fornemmelse for sne (Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow)
Author: Peter Høeg
Translator: Tiina Nunnally
Publisher of edition read: Delta Trade Paperbacks
Source: Bought it
Bottom Line: An atmospheric mystery/thriller with a strong sense of place. A great read for those how love snow, ice, and ships.


  1. Haha, I’m terrible at getting to books people recommend to me, but I don’t think I’ve gone 17 years yet! Definitely years though and maybe a decade… Now I’m curious! Also, I’ve just noticed your tagline and I think it’s fantastic 🙂

    • Thanks for noticing my tag line, Katie. Back when I was pondering a rating system, I thought about using cow patties instead of stars to go along with the cow theme, but, in the end, I concluded that might lead to too much misinterpretation. 💩

  2. I ‘discovered’ this book about 13 yrs ago when I went on my very first skiing holiday – it was my reading companion & I loved it. In fact, the book was far more successful than the skiing!

What do you think? Leave a comment and let's talk!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.