Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Borderliners (1993)

A copy of Peter Høeg's Borderliners (1993) recently came into my hands, and since I'd read his book The Woman and the Ape years ago and liked it, I thought I should give this one a chance. Plus he is Danish and I am half-Danish, so I like to think that will give me a little genetic insight into the sensibilities of his novels. I also like to think that this forges a connection between me and Lars von Trier, and actually I could easily see the story of Borderliners working as a von Trier film.

Borderliners is told from the perspective of an orphan named Peter Høeg who is reflecting back on his youth as an adult. He had been shifted around from institution to institution all his life and became adept at doing what he needed to do to survive the bullying, neglect and privation of the orphanages and detention centers. After a particularly brutal incident, he is transferred to a private school full of children from good homes where he and several other "borderliners" (that is children who are not expected to succeed) are integrated in with the other children.

Peter continues to keep his head down and work through this new situation but suddenly finds himself unable to sleep at night -- making him very tired in the morning and consistently late for class, something that is not tolerated at the school. The administration puts him in charge of a new student, August, a boy who is extremely troubled and often dangerous to himself and others, and then they meet Katarina, a previously "normal" student at the school who has recently lost both her parents and also finds herself unstuck from the routines of the school. The three children work together to look after one another and discover the secret plan behind the institution.

This book takes some work to get into. Not all that much happens (although what does happen is often very exciting), and the book delves into philosophical questions of time, education, youth, and individuality that might bore some readers. However: if you have a little patience, it really really pays off. I loved this book, and I still find myself thinking through some of the ideas about time and revisiting the images and characters of the book.

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