Kasper Colling Nielsen: Mount København.
Publisher: Gyldendal, 2010.
176 pages, DKK 229.
Kasper Colling Nielsen’s debut book Mount København [Mount Copenhagen] is a wonderfully lopsided, indefinable work. The basic idea is wholly implausible: In 200 years, an 11.500 ft. mountain is erected in Denmark just south of Copenhagen. This mountain now serves as a backdrop for a number of quirky, philosophical tales, some of which are underplayed everyday-life narratives, whereas others contain a comic-book kind of friskiness. The latter are deliberately campy and pulpy, such as the stories about Flemming (a very common Danish name), the magnetic man, who initially attracts merely nuts and bolts, but ends up as Magneto the metal man, a kind of runaway Robocop.
An enjoyable feature of these wild fabulations is the contrast between the extravagant, fantastical elements and some very down-to-earth references to well-known items of everyday life in Denmark: local supermarket chains and garden centers, Copenhagen suburbs etc. Ironically, the language of the book, though very fluent and inspired, seems influenced by English (e.g. “succesfuld”, cf. English “successful”, is used consistently instead of the more common Danish word “vellykket”). This language-use may be a generation issue (though Kasper Colling Nielsen, born 1974, is not very young).
The book points in many directions, which is exactly what makes it enjoyable. It contains stories like “Morgenkomplet” (”Full Breakfast”), an almost traditional piece of Danish social realism, poetic tableaux such as “Kunsten at spise et æble” (“The Art of Eating an Apple”), and speculative texts in the tradition of Borges, Italo Calvino and the major Danish writer Svend Åge Madsen. (As a science-fiction reader one may add Ted Chiang, though it is unlikely that his writings have been a source of inspiration for Colling Nielsen. Colling Nielsen claims he does not read much science fiction).
Generally I find the stories more successful the more far-fetched and zany they are. My favourite is “Syltede figner” (”Preserved figs”) where an Old-Testament pastiche is paired with contemporary-style cuisine. When a reverend of the Church of St. John collapses during a rough footrace on the mountain, THE LORD appears before him, saying: “Thou shalt … plant a fig tree in the south-east corner of the vicarage … In three years, when the top branches of the tree reach above the walls of the atrium, thou shalt harvest the figs, clean and flame them with Cointreau. To the frying pan, thou shalt add 200 grams of organic cane sugar and let it caramelize, whereupon thou shalt add some organic wildflower honey.” (p.7). At this point, I found the book irresistible.
I read “Syltede figner” to my family while we cooked roast beef with Danish potatoes, and crêpes Suzette for dessert. Literature is there to be used. Bon appétit!