Danish author Josefine Klougart – a new Virginia Woolf?
“To be a good writer, you must first be a good reader. And being able to read your own work is the most difficult thing of all.”
Danish author Josefine Klougart is not afraid of taking a close look at herself or putting highly personal details into her books. It is through self-examination that she often finds universal truths, she says. She is also well known for writing unusually poetic and sensitive novels, which are always closely linked to some of the most basic aspects of our lives: love, loss, sorrow.
Én af os sover, (One of us is -sleeping), Rosinante & Co, 2012
Preface to Mrs Dalloway, 2012
Om mørke, (On Darkness), novel, Forlaget Gladiator, 2013
Special edition of On Darkness, 2014
Her third novel, Én af os sover (One of Us is Sleeping), provided her international breakthrough, but even before that Klougart was a successful writer in her home country. At just 25 years old, she was nominated for the prestigious Nordic Council Literature Prize for her debut novel, Stigninger og fald (“Rise and Fall”), and hailed as something of a wunderkind. She has received nearly universal praise from the critics, who have compared her to Virginia Woolf and described her work as some of the most important contemporary writing around.
That would be enough to give anyone a certain amount of performance anxiety, but Klougart has no problem with it over lunch at a busy café in central Copenhagen.
‘Reading lets you discover something new in the world’
“I see language and literature as a gift. Out of that comes something bigger than me. Literature for me is a kind of fundamental research into what it means to be human, and that helps me avoid performance anxiety.”
Does that mean she finds writing easy? “No!” she exclaims. “Not at all. I take ten steps forward then nine steps back. I can write hundreds of pages, and then only keep about 10%. But I do not want to steer my writing too much; I prefer just to let it grow, and then cultivate it.”
Én af os sover is the story of a young woman who returns to her parents’ home in the countryside in order to be with her seriously ill mother. At the same time she is processing the pain of two relationships that have ended. Grief and loss are both subjects that Klougart returns to often in her books, including in her latest novel, Om mørke (On Darkness), which will soon be released in Swedish.
“As I see it, mourning is part of being human. The fundamental truth is that one day we all lose everything. It is all just on loan. But I believe that literature can slow down time for just a moment.”
Klougart is also keen on music and the visual arts. She played saxophone for ten years and now sings and reads her own lyrics.
‘I can write hundreds of pages, and then only keep about 10%’
“It’s like an extension of writing. Every art form is about finding a new language. But I’m a better writer than a painter, because I’ve spent more time writing. But there is also something nice about doing something you are not particularly good at.”
Reading is an important part of her writing. She reads other authors all the time, she says. And she doesn’t read e-books. Reading for her is a “physical experience.” She regards the rapid advance of technology these days with concern.
“I think, unfortunately, that we are raising a generation that now finds it much more difficult to concentrate. But what reading does is let you discover something new in the world. And I think that is important for the community as a whole.”
Does reading make you a better person? Klougart thinks for a moment before answering.
“I think it can. But above all it makes you a more open-minded person. There is a humility about observing other people’s situations and recognizing the fragility of your own view of the world.”
Text: Annina Rabe
Published: January 29, 2016