A Change of Time: Ida Jessen

★★★★½

You must forgive the recent erratic posting. Life has been getting in the way, with lectures and work trips flying at me from all directions, plus some very pleasant socialising. Besides, WordPress have just introduced a new editor which isn’t quite as intuitive as I’d like. But never mind. I’m bumbling on as best I can, and have just finished reading a really gorgeous little book: A Change of Time by the Danish author Ida Jessen. Through her diary, a widowed school-teacher in early 20th-century Denmark remembers her late husband and uses her loneliness as a spur to revisit her life and, slowly, anxiously, recover her sense of self. For once, cover and book coexist beautifully: Jessen’s novel is like a Hammershøi in prose: a haunting, timeless, intimate exploration of loss, rendered by the translator Martin Aitken into elegantly spare English. Although the book won’t be published until March, I just had to write about it now, before the feeling of it fades; and it’s deeply suited to these long, dark winter evenings. A little jewel.

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The Visit of the Royal Physician: Per Olov Enquist

★★★

Per Olov Enquist’s novel was a great success in his native Sweden, where it won the 1999 August Prize, and its critical acclaim continued with this English translation by Tiina Nunnally, which won the 2003 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize. It was also one of the sources of inspiration for the very good 2012 Danish film A Royal Affair, which I enjoyed immensely. Enquist’s novel shares much of its atmosphere with the film. It is a stark, claustrophobic and disturbing account of the ménage à trois which existed at the Danish court from 1769 until 1772, between the mad King Christian VII, his English wife Caroline Mathilde (younger sister of George III) and the German doctor Johann Friedrich Struensee, whose appointment as Royal Physician offers him all manner of opportunities.

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A Royal Affair

A Royal Affair

★★★★

(directed by Nikolaj Arcel, 2012)

In 2006 I went to a talk at the Oxford Literary Festival, in which Stella Tillyard discussed her book A Royal Affair: George III and his Troublesome Siblings.  The book looked at the fates of George III’s various brothers and sisters, but the most memorable story within it was that of Caroline Mathilde, George’s youngest sister, who was married off to Christian VII of Denmark.  As this film has the same title, I assumed that it must have been based on the book, but there was no credit to Tillyard in the opening titles and there’s no mention of her on the film’s Wikipedia page.

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