Svend Åge Madsen - Teasing and intriguing, this unique novel takes readers on a journey through shifting identities and psychological probabilities. The narrator meets himself in various guises, even sees himself through the window writing an account which, when he finally gains access to it, turns out to be in his own handwriting. Who is this narrator?

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Svend Åge Madsen, Days with Diam, Trans. by W Glyn Jones, Norvik Press, 1995.

One of Denmark's most important experimental novelists, Madsen skirts around realism, but is never entirely realistic. Teasing and intriguing, this unique novel takes readers on a journey through shifting identities and psychological probabilities. The narrator meets himself in various guises, even sees himself through the window writing an account which, when he finally gains access to it, turns out to be in his own handwriting. Who is this narrator? And who is this Diam who appears in an array of guises ranging from the prudish to the lascivious? A figment of the imagination perhaps but of whose imagination? And what is the implication of the character without a story? In one chapter, Madsen explains the system behind the book. Readers will decide whether this explanation is the whole key to understanding this challenging novel.

In this story the manifold and complex nature of human personality results in the creation of a world in which the doppelgänger motif is related to Mendel's laws of segregation. In one chapter, the author explains the system behind the book - but is this the whole key to its understanding?

Svend Age Madsen, born in 1939, stands today as one of Denmark's most important experimental novelists. Concerned with the unstable or illusory nature of reality, he is a master of the fantastic, skirting around realism, but never entirely realistic. For him, time, place, human nature are all indeterminate concepts, all tending to dissolve and re-emerge elsewhere in a different form. In Days with Diam the manifold and complex nature of human personality results in the creation of a world in which the doppelganger motif is related to Mendel's laws of segregation: the narrator meets himself in various guises, even sees himself through the window writing an account which, when he finally gains access to it, turns out to be in his own handwriting. Who is this narrator? And what is this Diam who appears in an array of guises ranging from the prudish to the lascivious? A figment of the imagination, perhaps - but of whose imagination? And what is the implication of the character without a story? In one chapter, Svend Age Madsen explains the system behind the book - but is this the whole key to its understanding?

In this imaginative, cleverly constructed novel by a leading contemporary Danish writer, much is related to Mendel's work in heredity. Not that anything has scientific certainty: the work can turn absurd or more often hilarious at any moment. A person who disappears one instant, reappears as the ghost of his former self the next. The narrator, for instance, evolves into alternate selves with only one thing in common--an obsession with an ever-changing woman named Diam, who acts as a muse, lover, bitch-goddess and figment of the imagination. Madsen's thought-provoking story--``a kaleidoscopic picture of the possibilities I have felt within myself''--raises fascinating questions about the permeable border between reality and imagination, and about the ways we create and recreate ourselves in life and in fiction. The arrangement of chapters in the form of a genealogical tree seems baffling (what is this, some kind of genetic code? we cry), the writer explains that it is not his intention to make the letters signify anything and that the stories can be read in any order. One thing is certain: having finished Madsen's book, readers will look at fiction in a new light. - Publishers Weekly


Svend Åge Madsen, Virtue & Vice in the Middle Time, Routledge, 1992.

Madsen's work may be divided into three phases. The first phase comprises abstract modernist works influenced by writers such as Franz Kafka, Samuel Beckett, Alain Robbe-Grillet and James Joyce. These works examine the capacity of language to depict reality; they include the experimental novels The Visit (Besøget, 1963) and Additions (Tilføjelser, 1967), the "unnovel" Pictures of Lust (Lystbilleder, 1964), and the collection of short stories Eight Times Orphan (Otte gange orphan, 1965).
Madsen would later define these novels as "anti-art". The change to the next phase of his work was, according to him, a shift from "anti-art" to "anti-anti-art", which accepted the result of the first phase: "that reality can not be described", but that one may attempt to build a meaningful literature from a relativistic stance. The project was now to show how "lower" genres (such as crime fiction, romantic fiction and science fiction) could be a mosaic of equal truths that make up reality. This change is also a change from modernist literature to postmodern literature.
The third phase of Madsen's work comprises some novels that are less abstract and more realistic than his earlier works, but are still highly imaginative. At the same time, Madsen started working on a "macro"-text in which characters are used repeatedly in different novels, main characters becoming minor characters and vice versa. All of these novels take places in the city of Aarhus in Denmark. Through a complex net of bizarre stories, Madsen creates an alternative Aarhus in which everything is possible and extreme philosophical positions are explored. Madsen's late literature is quite unique but can perhaps best be likened to the magical realism of Latin America.
A recurring trait in his books is that the characters face some sort of extreme situation which enables a philosophical theme to emerge.
Perhaps Madsen's most famous work is Vice and Virtue in the Middle Time (Tugt og utugt i mellemtiden, 1976) which has been translated into English. In this novel, a man from a very distant future takes on the experiment of writing a novel of the age called Middle Time, which is the western world in the 1970s. This creates an amusing philosophical position, in which everything we take for granted is questioned in the light of a totally different perspective on life. The main plot is a rewriting of Alexandre Dumas, père's The Count of Monte Cristo, but there are references to many classic novels. - wikipedia

more here: www.themodernnovel.org/europe/w-europe/denmark/madsen/tugt/

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