Notes Reading Notes

Borderliners

By Peter Høeg, 1993

A creepy, semi-autobiographical novel about the experience of time, trauma and mental illness.

The story is told from the perspective of a boy in institutional care in late 1960s/early 1970s Denmark. Moving from facility to facility and dealing with stream of horrifying and abusive situations, he is ‘on the borderline’—at risk of falling into a ‘black hole’ from which there would be no escape. After an incident where a teacher tries to rape him, he is placed in an exclusive private academy of normal students and run by an unyielding disciplinarian called Biehl.

As he struggles to deal with the school’s rigid and unyielding timetable and regimented structure of daily routine, he begins to have insights into the nature of time. When he meets two fellow borderline students with similar questions about the nature of time, they intuit a secret plan that lies behind Biehl’s controlled violence and begin a subversive social experiment in manipulating the boundaries of the school that leads to destabilising consequences.

Part way in, we discover that the whole story is a memoir written in 1993, looking back on the memories of these events.

From the perspective of the narrator, there’s no distinction between schools, prisons, treatment facilities. They’re all different facets of the same institution.