Helle Helle has won lots of domestic Danish literary prizes and had her work translated into 13 languages but This Should be Written in the Present Tense (2011) is the first of her novels to be translated into English, and then not until 2014. Translated by Martin Aitken it seems possible that this novel is jumping on the armada of Danish culture driven by The Killing et al; and that’s no bad thing. This was definitely worth the translator’s fee.
It is a charming book. It both has substance and does not; like thick fog it exists and obscures the outside world, it deadens sound and yet there is always the possibility it might evaporate to reveal something or nothing.
Dorte is a thoughtful 20 year old university student, not attending university, living alone in a suburb of Copenhagen. She is both very much in control of her own destiny and allows life to happen to her. Her house next to the railway station allows her to watch the world pass her by and equally for life to interrupt her solitariness. She has boyfriends – one she leaves because they are too young to do anything but wait for the relationship to founder and the other who leaves her.
Her real depth of love is reserved for her aunt, after whom she is named, and who is her anchor. Her relationship with her strangely disengaged parents is barely described and never explained. They appear to provide practical help but Dorte will avoid them while giving the impression that they are not interested in her. Really very little happens, certainly nothing exceptional for a 20 year old student but sensory descriptions of every day minutiae mean that the reader lives life with Dorte. I found myself consumed by This Should be Written in the Present Tense against my expectations; it is a quietly mesmerising novel.
This Should be Written in the Present Tense by Helle Helle
9780099587477 Vintage pbk
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