The Elephant Keepers’ Children
By Peter Hoeg
Harvill Secker – £12.99
Peter Hoeg’s The Elephant Keeper’s Children is quite a hefty book to get through. Reason being, it is at times hard going, as he tends to go off on a tangent throughout what is clearly, a humorous, Homeric and altogether engaging novel. Usually over explaining the history of why or how a certain character or situation has come into being.
That said, if you stick with it, you would find this a funny, moderately fast-paced and imaginative read, slightly off centre admittedly, with extremely colourful characters.
A colossal collection of hats off to the book’s translator Martin Aitken, as it really couldn’t have been an easy task – although he seems to have captured Hoeg’s idiosyncratic intent. I am curious to know the original names of Thorkild Thorlacius-Claptrap or Leanora Tickpalate. Equally Anaflabia Borderrud. Are they really Danish?
Alas, the story in brief: a small island Pastor and his wife disappear suddenly in strange circumstances, leaving behind two young offspring. Unless they can find their two scheming parents, Peter and Tilte are in danger of being institutionalised by the authorities.
So it is that we follow the haphazard adventure(s) of two youngsters (and at times their older brother); accompanied by a dog, a corpse(!), an insane script and a dubious Count – of which the following will hopefully act as something of a teasing taster:
‘’’Rickardt,’ says Tilte ‘we know that Basker is a lively dog. And Petrus is a troubled child. But would you say that two plainclothes police officers plus electronic tagging plus Big hill, which is guarded like a prison camp, were necessary measures to provide for their care?’
The Count says he was thinking the same thing himself,
Tilte pauses rhetorically, as they would say in Fino’s Amateur Dramatic Society.
‘Imagine the headlines, Rickardt.’
That’s something Tilte learned from our great-grandmother on an occasion to which I shall later return, and you can tell she’s becoming more practised because it sounds more ominous and more inevitable than it did in Hans’ student accommodation.
‘Count aids police in illegal detention of clergyman’s children. How does that sound, Rickardt?
The Count doesn’t think it sounds good at all. Substance abusers who have got clean and own hereditary titles and a castle and two manor farms and five hundred million kroner tend to be rather senstitive about their good name and reputation.
So now we’re at the crux of the matter.’’
Suffice to say, the reader eventually reaches a dramatic conclusion with regards the disappearance of the Pastor and his wife, by which time s/he will step off the literary rollercoaster ride, replete with an immense feeling of satisfaction.