Friday, May 28, 2010

silhouette of a sinner

Leonora Christina Skov's extraordinary queer Gothic salute Silhuet af en synder [Silhouette of a Sinner] came out here a couple of weeks ago on Rosinante to ecstatic reviews across the board. Lilian Munk Rösing at Information (here>>) summed it nicely:

[a] metaliterary, pulpy nest of plot-boxes packed with ghosts and ghouls, lesbian incest and voyeurism, cross-dressers and changelings ...

Here's a short extract - the book's opening paragraphs - from the English sample I did recently for Gyldendal. It's already stirring up interest in the UK. Watch this space.

August 1973

These many years gone by not a single day has passed without me thinking of the time I returned to Liljenholm. It was in November 1941, a little after four in the afternoon, and just where the avenue of lime trees comes to an end and the manor reveals itself in full view, my feet stopped all by themselves.
“My God!”
In front of me, my dearest Nella turned around. Her skin was like porcelain, even in the wind that had long since got the better of her carefully done hair; she brushed a long curl away from her eyes and put down her suitcase for a moment.
“What’s the matter?”
She took no notice my pointing finger, but simply picked up her suitcase again and pulled her collar further up around her ears.
“I’d suggest you get a move on,” she said over her shoulder.
“But can’t you see …?”
“Do hurry. It’s going to rain soon.”
It had been five years since we had been there last, and in our absence, the hall had fallen in on itself like a hunched old man. Or perhaps it was merely the wilderness that had grown up around it. Bare creepers lay in wait in the fading light of afternoon, having crawled up the redbrick walls and covered most of the entrance. The hole in the wilderness where the main door had to be resembled something more than a hole, however. It looked like … well, I hardly know how to put it. But imagine opening a thick, old book one wishes to read again. One turns the pages, oblivious, the paper crackles and naturally one is expecting a familiar story to begin. Perhaps it even says Chapter One, yet underneath one finds only a hole the size of a fist, a hole in every single page so all that remains are useless, amputated sentences. That is how it felt to see Liljenholm again. Even as I went closer, I saw only disquieting darkness where the entrance was supposed to be.
“One could hardly claim Liljenholm has aged with grace,” I commented, if only for the sake of saying something to make things settle again, and Nella was almost inside the hole now. Flanked by two moss-covered stone lions, rampant and with teeth bared. I vaguely remembered having seen them before.
“Hardly. Had you expected it to?” she asked and patted one of the beasts, the one on the right that had lost half its wig-like mane, a clean break from the top of the head to a point midway down its muscular back. Her matter-of-factness surprised me, although really it oughtn’t to have. After all, this was Nella’s childhood home, not mine. Eighteen long years spent here with her mother, Antonia von Liljenholm.
Are you familiar with the name? I hope so. Regardless of what one otherwise may think about Antonia, she was certainly one of Denmark’s leading Gothic authoresses up to World War II, though the passage of time has been unkind to her reputation. Even the most major of her thirty-two novels have been forgotten, and if we are to include her personal life history, mention must be made of the fact that all those around her died or disappeared (or, in Nella’s case, fled to Copenhagen), leaving Antonia to spend the last ten years of her life alone in the hall here. She died of cancer at the age of fifty-two. In 1936.
“To think she could bear to live here on her own,” I exclaimed, just as the outline of the main door loomed up in front of us, Nella putting the key in the lock and turning it three times. We were here only to bring order into Antonia’s personal documents and to sort through the heirlooms before the manor was to be sold and our futures could begin. Well, Nella’s future, to be exact. I was here just to keep Nella company and to lend a hand where I was able. An appendage, one might say, of no great weight, though the latter description, in consideration of my appearance, would require some small amendment. Nella turned her head and caught my gaze. Her face was devoid of expression, like a bedsheet that had been ironed.
“Are you ready?” she asked, then pushed at the door until it opened with a groan of capitulation. I assume I said yes. But I was not in the least bit ready at all. Even today, so many years later that it could all be something imagined, just to think of the moment I stepped over the threshold is so very disagreeable. Everything I knew disappeared behind me without my having any idea what was going on. Everything I was suddenly became open to question, and I do not even know what disturbs me the most: the fact that it happened, or that it just as easily might not have happened.

For the fact of the matter is that I never left Liljenholm again. That is the short version. And the long one? You shall have it, of course, as soon as this foreword is written to end. Yet I shall linger a moment before handing the pen to that considerably younger version of my self. She who committed to writing all that happened at Liljenholm that winter, and all that had happened in the years before, and who later, in 1943, published it all as the real story, Silhouette of a Sinner. Under the rather inadequate pseudonym A. von Liljenholm, no less. But before I lose myself entirely in the past, allow me to draw attention to the fact that I am writing this foreword under duress. I cannot see that a book such as Silhouette of a Sinner should have any need at all of a foreword, yet my publisher seemingly is of a different opinion. Bella, she is called. She is Nella’s daughter, and I have never before found difficulty saying no, but I cannot possibly say no to a person who resembles Nella so much. My Nella. That is what love does for one.

© Leonora Christina Skov and Rosinante/ROSINANTE&CO, Copenhagen 2010
Translation © Martin Aitken 2010


My Danish translation of Boyd Morrison's The Ark came out yesterday on Lindhardt & Ringhof.

Sunday, May 2, 2010


The Silence of 1915 occurred on September 7 and embraced Western Europe and the countries from the Baltic in the north to the Balkans in the south. Since it was unforeseen, no accounts of it exist. Many failed to even perceive it, fleeting and incidental as it was, and this despite their own participation in it. There was no question of recalcitrance, neither was there time. The silence occurred, catching Europe between two breaths and with one leg aloft, as it were, whereupon everything and everyone carried on as though nothing had happened. How indeed should one have known that the silence one so unwittingly upheld embraced all of Europe? Naturally, it might have been made the subject of discussion immediately following its occurrence, but since its few witnesses were unreasonably distributed – many lived far from civilised parts, in regions where silence already was their confidant – the subject was quickly changed. The news media, who besides participating in the event also received incredulous enquiries concerning it, realised immediately that it would be impossible to verify and might therefore lead to most anything at all, and hushed it up. He who seeks information about the event is even now, so many years after, at a loss. A Bulgarian agronomical journal mentions it in a subclause in the context of an article on watermills in the north-eastern provinces, and the pseudonym Ludwig Renn treats the phenomenon with ill-bestowed irony in his novel of 1936, Vor Grossen Wandlungen. It should also be noted that in France in 1921 initiative was taken to repeat the event on its 6th anniversary, though this remained but a local enterprise, betrayed by a dog in Containcourt and pigeons in Honfleur.

(extract of sample translation)

© Per Højholt & Gyldendalske Boghandel, Nordisk Forlag A/S, 2001
Translation © Martin Aitken, 2010