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“The living room is practically wallpapered with books…” #ToveDitlevsen #CopenhagenTrilogy #NordicFINDS

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A year ago, as part of Annabel’s inagural Nordic FINDS challenge, I read the first volume in Tove Ditlevsen’s acclaimed ‘Copenhagen’ trilogy, “Childhood. I haven’t neglected this author, rating very highly her short story collection “The Trouble with Happiness” which I reviewed for SNB last April; but it has taken me until the second year of Annabel’s challenge to pick up book two of the trilogy and I’m very glad I did!

“Youth” (translated again by Tiina Nunnally) follows on from the first book with young Tove still struggling to forge her own identity. She’s in those difficult teenage years, having been forced to leave school and go out to work as the family is impoverished; and the narrative sees her moving from one awful job to another, struggling to cope with the unwanted attentions of all kinds of men, having a first boyfriend but feeling no real passion for any male, and, most importantly of all, trying to make it as a serious poet – a perhaps surprising ambition for a young girl of the time.

Throughout her quest to write, she is constantly seeking a mentor, and after the loss of the first editor who encouraged her in book 1, she encounters Mr. Krogh. An antiquarian bookseller, he seems to be unhealthily interested in Tove’s friend; however, when it comes to Tove herself he recognises something different and their friendship is an intellectual one. When he suddenly and dramatically disappears she is bereft, but after a diversion into amateur dramatics, she perseveres in her search for a mentor and by the end of the book is finally on her way to being a published author. Whether this will bring her happiness is another matter, I guess, and one which will become clearer in the final book of the trilogy, “Dependance”.

… I look around at my family, at these faces that have surrounded me my whole childhood, and I find them tired and aged, as if the years that I’ve used to grow up have exhausted them completely. Even my cousins, who are not much older than me, look worn out and used up.

As with “Childhood” this is a short book, yet within its pages a *lot* happens. We witness Tove’s complex relationship with parents which changes as she moves out of the family home into a series of awful rented rooms, existing just above the poverty line but desperate to be independent. There are marriages and deaths in the family, with brother Edvin marrying against his mother’s wishes; and it’s amusing to see Tove churning out song lyrics for those who need them during her various employments.

Death is not a gentle falling asleep as I once believed. It’s brutal, hideous, and foul-smelling. I wrap my arms around myself and rejoice in my youth and my health. Otherwise my youth is nothing more than a deficiency and a hindrance that I can’t get rid of fast enough.

The narrative tone of “Youth”, in the first person and seemingly remarkably straightforward, gives the book an immediacy; however, as I mentioned in my post on “Childhood”, this tone is deceptive and she conveys much in her crisp prose. There are layers in the story often only hinted at, and while reading the book I was totally immersed in Tove’s life and world. In the first book, I sensed a person craving affection that wasn’t there; however, in “Youth”, although she expresses a wish for husband and children, it’s her writing plus intellectual stimulation and understanding which seem the most important to her. It will be interesting to see here balancing those needs as her story continues.

I doubt if I’ll get to book three of Ditlevsen’s great work for Annabel’s event, but I’m so glad it gave me the push to pick up “Youth” right now (and I really will try to get to “Dependancy” a bit quicker…) Ditlevsen was obviously a remarkable and distinctive author, and I’m so glad her work has been rediscovered.

Festive incomings at the Ramblings!

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I do hope everyone has had a lovely seasonal break; if you’re anything like us at the Ramblings, there’s been a lot of food and drink and silly games and laughter with family, which has been quite lovely. There were also plenty of parcels to unwrap, and inevitably there have been books – in fact, rather more than I might have anticipated!

Things were slightly complicated by my birthday also being a December one, and so I thought I would split the arrivals into the two categories and share some of the bookish arrivals! 😁

This rather modest pile is the birthday books. My BFF J. presented me with another beautiful Beverley for my collection (which gets larger daily!) and the Vegan cookbook was from a local friend. “Dayglo”, about the amazing Poly Styrene, was from my brother in law, and the rest of the books were inspired gifts from Mr. Kaggsy. There is an intriguing sounding book about D. H. Lawrence in there which will become particularly pertinent as this post continues… I was very excited to get the new translation of the Bruno Schulz stories too!

Well – let’s get on to Christmas… Here’s the rather daunting pile of new arrivals!

I must admit I wasn’t anticipating quite so many bookish gifts – here’s a little more detail… ;D

This impressive pile of D.H. Lawrence titles comes from my BFF J., who has obviously decreed that 2020 will be the year that I read DHL! Let’s hope I like him… She actually lugged them all the way round London when we met up at the end of November, which is no mean feat – thanks J.!

These books are from other pals! “The House with the Stained Glass Window” comes from my old friend V., and as a fascinating translated work, it sounds right up my street! The Vita and Carter books are part of my Virago Secret Santa this year, and my Santa turned out to be Simon at Stuck in a Book – thanks Simon! 😀

And this stunning pile comes from family – including the Copenhagen trilogy from Middle child, Montaigne, Oscar Wilde, the Cold War, Buzzcocks and the wonderful behemoth at the bottom – The Penguin Book of Oulipo. I am ridiculously excited about all of these, and the Oulipo book is the icing on the cake!

So I’m obvs going to have to rearrange the shelves and have a bit of a clear out to house these wonderful volumes – and fortunately Mr. Kaggsy rather cleverly gifted me something which will be the perfect aid:

This is a rather wonderful library stool/step (the bottom bit slides out when you want to use it as a step) which I can keep in the spare room where the books live and use to hop up and down from the higher shelves, and sit on to have a quick sneaky read whenever I want! It’s absolutely fab and will no doubt help my investigations of some of my top shelves (and may even help me locate my missing Shostakovich books…)

So – I have been thoroughly spoiled over recent weeks with books and am now going to have even more issues deciding what to read next! I’m very lucky to have been so gifted. I hope all my bookish friends have had some wonderful Christmas arrivals, and do share what lovely books have been incoming at your homes! 😀

 

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