“The sensory experience is the most essential element for me in my writing. I try to get as close to my subject as possible, into the very pores of their skin. The familiar is there, but the depiction may be so detailed that the familiar becomes almost strange.” This is how Karen Fastrup characterized her own style in an interview where she named J. P. Jacobsen and Rainer Maria Rilke as two of the authors who have most informed her work.
The sensory experience is at the heart of Fastrup’s authorship, which in a word must be characterized as phenomenological, i.e. exploring the space where the physical world and consciousness meet and give rise to each other.
Fastrup has published two novels to date: Brønden (The Well) (2000) and Mine 27 sansers elskede (Beloved of My 27 Senses) (2003). Brønden is the story of (and is narrated by) a pregnant young Emma who travels to Lisbon to explore painted frescoes and ends up exploring the depths of her own childhood in Jutland. In Mine 27 sansers elskede a young man named Tore travels to Egypt to sift through the layers of his parents’ past, which he discovers involved a love triangle in the scorching sands of the Libyan desert. The novel’s title is a quote from Kurt Schwitters’s crazy, head-over-heals-in-love poem “To Anne Blume” and alludes to Fastrup’s ambition to depict a sensory realm so nuanced that five senses just aren’t enough. In both books Fastrup combines an objective, lexical style with an erotic, metaphorical one, allowing the stories to grow out of a mosaic of sensations and memories.
Landscapes are important in Fastrup’s prose and while she describes them with topographical precision they also serve as metaphors particularly for the body. In Mine 27 sansers elskede for example the crust on the surface of the desert serves as a metaphor for human skin, which can in turn be seen as a metaphor for the delicate sensory world that Fastrup weaves through her words. Fastrup’s literary landscape depicts on one hand a very concrete, physical world and on the other hand a landscape that transcends time and space—a maze of masculine and feminine, of blood ties, traces of previous sexual encounters, repulsions, and attractions—the throbbing, interlacing sensory landscape of family ties and of love.
Together with her Danish poet Niels Lyngsø, Fastrup has also authored a children’s book Kampen om Syrakus (The Battle for Syracuse) (2002), an exciting journey through time that, like her adult books, combines a sensory description with lexical precision.