Borderliners- Peter Hoeg

Borderliners, or De måske egnede in Danish, is a book by Peter Hoeg centered around 3 damaged schoolchildren who don’t fit into their highly regimented school system. The blurb states that is is an experimental school, and there is much made of this by the kids; they are certain that there is something off going on, that there is a greater plan behind the school that they need to understand, that even time itself is not self evident, but something that has been created and needs to be examined from the outside.

I couldn’t help feeling as I read through the book, that there was much made of not much. Yes the school was oppressive, and noone in government knew if taking in the damaged kids and trying to set them straight in the mainstream schools would have good outcomes, but that seems to me a very common scenario. Almost every boarding school movie and novel has an element of the strict, overbearing teachers and regimented timetable as the background to the school kids bid for creativity, independence and exploration. It is in someways one of the main elements of growing up- as children parents and teachers run our lives, until there comes a time when we push against it. And there have been hundreds of social programs tried over the years- as much as people in power would like to know it will work before they fund it, they never really know until afterwards.

I think what we read in this book, is less of an expose of a dodgy system, and more of an exploration of a different view of what it is like to be in that system. Peter, the protagonist, has a somewhat fractured mind- he loses sense of time, has difficulty remembering facts, and seems to find it harder to sort and classify information- the only way he knows what pieces of information are important from a class is to not when the teacher puts a certain emphasis on the words, rather than seeing the importance in it. He lives with a sense of fear, and over analyses moments. Although he talks about the fear, and understanding of certain things being portents of coming trouble from the teachers, as though all the students feel this way, I get the sense these things are a much larger part of his world than of the other students. The other students are ‘insiders’ as opposed to people on the outside, or borderline like him. And being on the inside is described as quite a different experience than what he lives, even if they have the same situation.

“You spend your whole life believing that you will always be on the outside or on the borderline. You struggle and struggle, and yet it all seems to be in vain. And then, suddenly, you are allowed inside and lifted up into the light.”

The book is written in a disjointed fashion. It constantly switches between pronouns: One, I & You may all appear on the same page, all, I think, meaning Peter. While most of it is set during the middle/high school years, there are flashes forwards to the present, and memories of the earlier past. There are diversions into philosophical rants about the nature of time. It is not the easiest book to read, and for much of it there isn’t a driving story line. Slowly, through dribs and drabs we get a string of events which lead up to a climax, and then just near the end small slice of redemption. I read this book less as a story, and more as a bit of time spent walking along side and listening to the mind of a small, troubled boy.

 

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