By L.S. Klepp
January 17, 1997 at 05:00 AM EST

The Woman and the Ape


THE WOMAN AND THE APE Peter Hoeg (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $23) In 1993 this Danish writer burst out of the obscurity reserved for Scandinavian writers in America with Smilla’s Sense of Snow, a suspense novel featuring a tough, authority-defying woman, a half-Greenlander, half-Danish outsider in Copenhagen. The heroine of his new novel is also an outsider. Madelene Burden is an alcoholic 30-year-old Dane in London married to an aloof upper-class zoologist. Bored and becalmed, she doesn’t look like authority-defying material. But when her husband and other scientists start secret experiments on a newly captured ape of unknown species, she finds her purpose in life — rescuing the ape — and is abruptly transformed into a brazen, resourceful sleuth like Smilla. Then the novel abruptly goes bananas. We get extensive ape-to-woman conversation (he quickly masters English) and intensive ape/woman sex. But mainly we get a lame satirical fable. Swift and Kafka made memorable satire out of animals more intelligent and virtuous than humans (see Kafka’s ”A Report to an Academy” for a better talking ape), but in this case Hoeg is just monkeying around. C

The Woman and the Ape

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