mandag den 3. november 2014

Helle’s coy, evasive style

Det er så fint at se en britisk anmelder sensitivt, nysgerrigt læse sig ind på Helle på engelsk; John Self (hedder han faktisk) I The Guardian, begyndelsen og slutningen på anmeldelsen:

Helle Helle is apparently Denmark’s most popular novelist. The Danes must have rarefied tastes, because this is a novel so quiet you can almost hear yourself swallow as you read. “What a racket it made,” says the narrator, 21-year-old Dorte Hansen, when she chews some gum. The book, translated by Martin Aitken, is quiet because her life is quiet, and because, she says, to tell us her story she has discarded lots of material. What’s left is a book with all the bigness hidden away, and where even current events are reported as passed (“I hated the narrative present”) to make them less immediate, to distance Dorte from how her life has turned out.

Helle’s coy, evasive style may madden or bore some readers, but there are pleasures here. There is absurdity, as Dorte, who is prone to crying at length, gets work writing party songs. “If I could avoid it I wouldn’t rhyme on a verb.” And there is the emotional centre of the book: Dorte’s aunt. “I was named after Dorte because she couldn’t have children of her own ... The doctor peered between her legs and shook his head.” We learn more about Aunt Dorte than we do about her niece, including a loss of innocence that results in her happiness being reduced to shopping and rearranging furniture, and then her admission to hospital for “what you weren’t supposed to call a nervous breakdown any more”. Dorte asks the hospital staff if something happened. “No, nothing in particular, as far as I know. Sometimes it just happens, bang.”
Dorte meets a would-be writer, who gives an insight into Helle’s methods. “I’m always asking myself, why does that have to be there? And if I can’t find a reason, it goes.” We might picture an earlier version of this book, then, fatter and filled with bangs. It would be more exciting, but a lot less interesting.
• To order This Should Be Written in the Present Tense for £9.49 (RRP £12.99), go to or call 0330 333 6846.

- og så fornemt som anmelderen svarer på kommentarer nede i kommentartråden:

When I read This Should Be Written In The Present Tense, it struck me that it is a difficult book to convey precisely because it’s so spare & restrained. This review conveys it well. It is indeed a book ‘with all the bigness hidden away’, a book that makes you sit still and listen closely.
At times I listened so intensely that I started to hear noises which may not have been there. At one point far into the book, I suddenly wondered if there was a meta-ness about Dorte and her Aunt Dorte. Their names, little parallels, the book’s temporal tricks and my own doubts about the narrator’s reliability caused me to wonder if they were really one Dorte.
On my bookselves, Helle Helle belongs with in the section with Amélie Nothomb, Ingvild Rishøi, Marie Darrieussecq, Kjersti Skomsvold, Gerbrand Bakker, Per Petterson, Jon Fosse. European writers all. Coincidence? Their tense, taut books make the alleged ‘Great American Novel’ seem garish.

Guardian contributor
JohnSelfsAsylum AggieH
Thanks Aggie. I did wonder about Aunt Dorte's reality too. Certainly it's a book that deliberately wrongfoots the reader (for example, by referring to characters as though we are familiar with them, and then only introducing them many pages later) so anything is possible. I think the unanswered questions and the gaps are indicative of a very good authorial control of viewpoint. We don't have things explained to us just because it would be helpful; so we feel ourselves to be in Dorte's mind all the more authentically.

- en kommentator anholder, at Helle skulle væøre den bedstsælgende danske forfatter, oversætteren Martin Aitken anholder anholdelsen:

Martin Aitken
Re. the popularity stakes. This week's bestseller list in Denmark has Helle's latest coming in at #3, topped only by Ken Follett and New York Times bestseller Adler-Olsen, and ahead of Murakami. I'd say popular.

Guardian contributor JohnSelfsAsylum Martin Aitken
Thanks for this information. I presume you are the Martin Aitken who translated the book. In reviews, I tend not to comment on the quality of a translation, because it seems to me unknowable unless you can also read the parent language (which I never can). But it is a tribute to your work that the book reads as well in English as it does.

Gentlemanlæser, gentlemananmelder! 

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