Book Review: This Should Be Written in the Present Tense by Helle Helle

This Should Be Written in the Present Tense
by Helle Helle, Martin Aitken (Translation)

Publication date: November 5th 2014 
Publisher: Vintage (first published April 2011)
Pages: 192


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.

Source: Goodreads


If I hadn’t known otherwise, I’d probably have thought this was a non-fiction grammar book but instead “This Should Be Written in the Present Tense” is a Danish story of a young woman drifting through life in Glumsø, a tiny railway town outside of Copenhagen.

20 year old Dorte Hansen is a bit of an oddball. She’s a student but she rarely, if ever, goes to class. We see her more often lying around, buying sandwiches, ordering drinks she doesn’t like and repeatedly leaving her boyfriends. She suffers from an increasingly gripping insomnia and seems somewhat lost in life.

It would be easy to say that nothing really happens in this book, but the story isn’t really about the plot and Helle forces you to read between the lines to find meaning in her words. Dorte has no real purpose and she’s still growing up and trying to (passively) find her place in the world.

“I didn’t know what to do with myself. I felt I should wash my hair. I realised I hadn’t had my dinner. I went into the kitchen and opened all the cupboards. There was some pasta and pitta bread with several cans of tuna, but nothing I really fancied. I went into the front room and looked across at the station. There was a light on upstairs, but I couldn’t see anyone there. I stuffed a hundred-krone note in my pocket together with my front-door key, pulled on a jumper and shut the door behind me.”

There’s a major lack of description in this book and with very few adjectives, everything seems a little bit dull and flat, but for some reason I was still gripped. These short sentences and brief chapters mean it was easy to become immersed in this world of ordinary people and Helle Helle has somehow managed to take the mundane and make it interesting.

Overall rating: I somehow found myself immersed in the world of Dorte Hansen, a bored, lost young woman trying to find her place in the world. Nothing that happens is all that interesting, but that’s kind of the point. I didn’t love it, but I still enjoyed it so it’s 3 stars from me.

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