Sunday, October 20, 2019

The Copenhagen Trilogy

From The Spectator:
Little Tove feels herself ‘a foreigner in this world’, a gangly oddball accidentally dropped with her gruff socialist dad (a stoker, often unemployed), her inscrutable maidservant mother, ‘full of secret thoughts I would never know’, and cheerfully hapless brother Edvin. With her penniless family barely surviving the interwar decades on the fringe of the Copenhagen working class, Tove must hope for nothing better than marriage to a ‘stable skilled worker’ who doesn’t booze too much. Instead, she reads and writes, thinks and observes, gathering enamel-bright memories of childhood into a ‘library of the soul’ she will browse over a creative lifetime.

In Youth, the teenage wonder tangles with a succession of creepy male mentors, from aesthetic Mr Krogh in his silk dressing-gown to the pudgy, oily editor Viggo F. Møller, with his green suits and green wallpaper. These cut-price Svengalis pretend to guide her down the ‘dark and twisting roads’ that lead to the literary life. Meanwhile, in a string of dead-end office jobs skewered with a comic relish Alan Bennett might envy, she makes extra cash by composing ditties for birthdays, promotions, funerals and so on. Want a rhyme for ‘Sven Åge’? Try ‘Boa, Noah, protozoa, Balboa’. She also endures a Nazi landlady, with a picture of Hitler on the wall, who thinks the beloved Führer’s oratory ‘goes right through your skin like a steambath’.

Ditlevsen can pivot from hilarity to heartbreak in a trice. Neither the ‘miracle’ of published volumes nor the adventures of sex can dent her mortifying sense of a thick veil ‘between myself and reality’. Literature liberates but shackles her. She comes to believe ‘the only thing I’m good for… is forming sentences’. (Read more.)


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