Book Review – THIS SHOULD BE WRITTEN IN THE PRESENT TENSE by Helle Helle
This Should be Written in the Present Tense Synopsis :
This should be written in the present tense. But it isn’t.
Dorte should be at uni in Copenhagen. But she’s not.
She should probably put some curtains up in her new place.
And maybe stop sleeping with her neighbour’s boyfriend.
Perhaps things don’t always work out the way they should.
I’ve read a lot of fiction, but have never come across a combination of story and writing style like this. A Danish bestseller and winner of the Golden Laurel literary prize, Helle Helle’s This Should be Written in the Present Tense is something quite unique.
I found myself utterly mesmerised by this little novel about the seemingly commonplace. It’s stark minimalism is beguiling. I suppose you would call this combination of writing styles avante garde – short sentences, a stream of consciousness approach to relaying occurrences, scattered interior monologues, very serious subject matter treated with a sense of detachment, short easy to digest chapters that propel the reader along.
I sat at the drop-leaf table thinking about the word bleary. It was Saturday morning I felt like I ought to be doing something. Finishing the unpacking and taking the empty boxes out into the shed, for instance, or having a bath. Fresh air would do me good as well…
The tension and mystery is in that so much is left unsaid for the reader to piece together, from the story chronology to the narrator’s reliability and the state of mind of multiple characters.
On reflection though I realise it was Helle’s seductively simple writing style and spare narrative I most engaged with, rather than the characters or their plight. As impressed as I was by the clever circular construction of this piece, something left me feeling a little cold. Perhaps it was the ambivalence of the characters, the prevalence of deception or the darker subject matter eluded to…. I have this nagging feeling I missed a vital clue that might become apparent on a second reading.
Or perhaps the author’s goal was to transiently cultivate the restlessness of youth such as Dorte in her audience so that they might have greater empathy for it? Or perhaps I’m just over thinking it…
Although the prose within This Should be Written in Present Tense is very accessible, I’d only recommend this for those with literary leanings, given the heavy weighting given to artistic form and reader engagement over plot.
BOOK RATING: The Story 3.5 / 5 ; The Writing 4 / 5
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Genre: Literature, Drama, Mystery
Author Information: Helle Helle is arguably Denmark’s foremost modern novelist and its most popular. She has been awarded many prizes, including the Danish Critics’ Prize, the Danish Academy’s Beatrice Prize, and the P.O. Enquist Award. She was recently given the Lifetime Award of the Danish Arts Council.
Her work has been translated into thirteen languages. This is her first novel to be translated into English.
Other reviews of This Should be Written in the Present Tense: The Guardian; A Universe in Words
* My receiving an ebook copy of this novel from Random House UK via NetGalley did not impact the expression of my honest opinions in the review above.