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Portrait of a writer

Helle Helle

By Henk van der Liet, 2006

Photo: © Robin Skjoldborg

Entirely in step with the literary Zeitgeist, Helle Helle began her career as an author by writing a series of short prose collections. Short but not meek. Eventually, she moved into larger and larger formats with steadily increasing recognition from critics and readers.

Even in her fragmentary and thematic debut Eksempel på liv [Example of Life] (1993), her writing displays a masterful sense of style and an unmistakable, dispassionate tone. It is also clear that Helle Helle has gone through a very interesting artistic development that is consistently unsentimental, resting upon a deceptive linguistic simplicity. These fundamental characteristics are also at the core of Helle Helle’s other books, two collections of short stories Rester [Remnants] (1996) and Biler og dyr [Cars and Animals] (2000) as well as her novels Hus og hjem [House and Home] (1999), Forestillingen om et ukompliceret liv med en mand [The Concept of an Uncomplicated Life with a Man] (2002), and the award-winning Rødby-Puttgarden (2005).

In all her texts, there is a recurring theme in Helle Helle’s recognizable prose: the inability of human beings to relate to each other emotionally; they see each other, they inhabit the same space, they are dependent on each other, but they cannot “talk together.” Moreover, most of Helle Helle’s characters have not come to terms with their past. For example, in Hus og hjem, the protagonist Anne, having returned to her home town, is incapable of creating a future for herself until she has established a social safety net around her. She studies and spies on the city’s inhabitants, but she is far from a neutral observer. And she proves to be a crafty intriguer.

Forestillingen om et ukompliceret liv med en mand is a menage ŕ trois about three young people who, each in his or her own way, are obsessed with the question of what remains after one’s death. For Kim, the aspiring writer, life’s highest goal is to write and make oneself immortal, so to speak; for Ester, it is her as yet unborn child who stands as her guarantor of eternity. By contrast, the disillusioned Susanne’s only ambition is to leave behind no trace at all.

Helle Helle’s breakthrough to a wider audience came with her critically-acclaimed novel Rødby-Puttgarden, about two sisters, Tine and Jane, who live in the town of Rødby, one end of the ferry route connecting Denmark to Puttgarden, Germany. Both work in the perfume section on board the ferries. The novel takes place in an artificial and rootless universe, and by having her main characters sell perfume, the author stresses the “transient” life of the two sisters.

Stylistically, Helle Helle makes use of a very plain linguistic register. She also possesses a rare ability to ferret out and demarcate a small corner of reality, to put it under the lens of the linguistic microscope and describe what she sees with great artistic precision. Her language is very close to everyday idiom, and she is extremely sparing in her use of modifiers. Helle Helle observes, registers, and describes as neutrally as possible, and she ignores all irrelevant trimming and decoration.

Helle Helle is like a demanding literary cook who insists on the best raw ingredients and refrains from the usual culinary frills. Helle Helle is "slow food" for literary "gourmets".

Translated by Barbara Haveland
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 Robin Skjoldborg +45 36 12 36

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