Reflections: The Woman and the Ape

Peter Hoeg's The Woman and the Ape flirts with many complex social issues, and yet at every turn dodges the  responsibility of turning social critic. Hoeg is, first and last, a storyteller. In this tale, Hoeg introduces us to Madelene, a woman who escaped her family through marriage, and her marriage through drink. Only when her husband, a behavioral scientist, starts experimenting on a curiously man-like ape, does Madelene find reason enough in the world to push through her alcoholic haze into the depressing realities of post-industrial London.

Madelene is an extraordinary character. She can never be pinned down by simple adjectives, as she changes dramatically--and yet never unrealistically--from page to page. Mistress when we meet her of the craft of hiding behind artfully applied make up, she masters as we get to know her the craft of hiding behind the expectations and assumptions of others. She sneaks into office buildings, terrorizes veterinarians, crashes exclusive galas, and passes a shaved ape off as her ailing grandmother all because those around her believe her to be utterly incapable of doing anything at all besides artfully applying that make up.

Hoeg's writing is as nimble as his heroine, and one's emotions are wholly involved in the story telling. He shares Carl Hiaasen's outraged sense of humor and brisk narrative style.

While this book does have an almost fatal flaw (which a distaste for spoilers won't allow me to go into), it remains an example of smart, imaginative fiction, and an enticement to look into more of Hoeg's novels.

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