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And when it descends into a more sombre register, it not only convinces but makes one wish it had been given rather fewer opportunities for black-comedy hilarity.
But Peter Høeg, that assiduous novelist of exploration whose third book, Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow, made him an international celebrity, makes it credible enough geographically and – allowing for the selectivity of lively travel writing - demographically too.Høeg's powers of sympathy are shown in The Elephant Keepers' Children by his handling of his narrator, with his touching identification with his local team, Finø FC, and his open love for his two siblings.If his voice can be too determinedly jocular, it is also both attractive and compelling.Of course, the pair couldn't get away with such outrageous legerdemain, and only escaped professional chastisement by being diagnosed as suffering from stress.But they have not abandoned their heterodox ways, and by the time of the novel's opening they have disappeared - a disappearance which national police and security forces have to follow up.In competition with all the spiritual tripping around them, the pastor and his organist/inventor wife decided, before the novel's action begins, to make church services more dramatic, more in tune with the miraculous supposedly at the heart of Christianity.
When the words Holy Spirit were read out from the New Testament, lo, an actual white dove descended; on a windless day its members heard a rush of wind at the mention in a sermon of the Angels of Revelation; puffs of smoke emanated from graves in the churchyard.But the community has not remained inviolate from the mainland.Its comparative freedom from complex tensions has enabled cults and religious societies, however recherché, to flourish like green bay trees, together with erotic hedonists and substance-abusers both practising and reformed.It lies well beyond Læsø and Anholt in the Kattegat, nearer the Swedish coast than to Jutland or Sjælland.With its superb seascapes, it attracts many tourists.And if Finø is to be taken as a microcosm for Denmark (for which, substitute any other advanced European democracy), do not its dependence on tourism, on the pleasures rather than the needs of others, and the dissociation of so many of its inhabitants from necessary labour constitute the ideal soil for quasi-religious dilettantism to flourish?