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Portrait of a writer

Solvej Balle

By Erik Skyum-Nielsen, 1998

Photo: © Per Volkner

Solvej Balle made her first appearance at the age of 24 with her novel Lyrefugl (Lyre Bird), a sophisticated robinsonade with a broad perspective encompassing gender policies and a critique of civilisation. In it, she lets a young Danish woman, Freia, survive an aeroplane crash and end up all alone on a Pacific island, where bit by bit the girl reconstructs her knowledge of the world, from biology through life and psychology to sociality and history. This book only aroused limited attention on publication, but the high level of its ambition and the exuberant love of story-telling soon revealed themselves to be characteristic features of one of the most wilful oeuvres in modern Danish literature.

However, the author only made her breakthrough in 1993 with Ifølge loven(According to the Law). Four stories about mankind which, inspired by Kafka, Borges and Blixen, experiment with a philosophical prose style with a classical ring. The main interest here focuses on general human problems, which the four principal characters play through in the course of their fates. Whether this gives the reader a collection of novellas or a loosely composed short novel remains an open question, for the stories are only partly interrelated. Meanwhile, they have travel as a common motif, and they also have in common a style that is at once highly intellectual and tangible in its sensing, and which consciously creates a dialogue with science and philosophy.

Between her first publication and her breakthrough, Solvej Balle published a short novel & (1990), in which she comes close to the prose poem through abstract studies in the micro processes of society. People move like questing bodies in fragile, porous spaces whose time and place are veiled, so that here, too, there is room for Solvej Balle´s most important aim as an author: an anthropological questioning, research into what mankind really is, in a modern or postmodern, chaotically flickering sign universe, after the end of the story and the beginning of ambiguity.

Solvej Balle´s production is not very large, but her stubborn insistence on only writing on the greatest and most widely shared human problems makes her cognitional project a challenge to everyone. At the same time, her being anchored in a classical prose tradition means a supreme artistic elegance which has also won her many readers in Norway and Sweden as well as in Spain, Germany, Holland and England.

In 1998 Solvej Balle published Eller (Or), a small volume of prose poetry. The book consists of five movements and is a parallel to her book & (1990).

Translated by W. Glyn Jones
The photo is reproduced with permission from the photographer. The photo must not be reproduced on paper or digitally. Further rights can be obtained by contacting Per Volkner - Ragna. Tel (+45) 35 39 22 44

 
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