European Union Prize for Literature

Creative EuropeEuropean and International Booksellers FederationEuropean Writers' CouncilFederation of European Publishers

Winning Authors

Bjørn Rasmussen, Denmark

About the author:

Bjørn Rasmussen was born in 1983 and graduated from the Danish Playwright School in 2007 and from the Danish Writers’ School in 2011. He received the Montana Literary Award in 2011 for Huden er det elastiske hylster der omgiver hele legemet, was awarded a three year work grant from the Danish government in 2013 and received the Kultur Bornholms Literary Award in 2014.

Publishing house:

Gyldendal
Klareboderne 3
1001 Copenhagen
Denmark                                                        
Tel.: +45 33 75 55 55
www.gyldendal.dk

Contact:
gyldendal@gyldendal.dk

Agent / Rights Director:

Cecilie Højmark
cecilie_hoejmark@gyldendalgroupagency.dk
http://gyldendalgroupagency.dk/

Translation deals:

Book awarded:

Huden er det elastiske hylster der omgiver hele legemet

Synopsis:

Huden er det elastiske hylster… is a coming-of-age novel about a young man looking back on life growing up in rural Denmark; not least his far-reaching encounter with a much older riding instructor, with whom he develops an attachment that becomes a romantic and erotic obsession. Any kind of conventional plot summary would do the book an injustice: bleak teenage years involving drugs and self-harm, identity crises, a dysfunctional family, a first big love, and fierce sexual longings, as well as trying to deal with all of these as extremely as possible. But it’s the novel’s exceptional language and voice that led the Danish EUPL jury, as well as Danish critics and readers of all ages, to be utterly captured by this debut. The idiosyncratic yet highly assured prose and poetry is wild, untrammelled and defies all taboos. And despite its reckless confrontation with despair, it manages to move, fascinate and shock the reader with its glittering, undeniable beauty. The author brings words and sentences from favourite writers to his tale, yet it remains entirely his own. A combination of prose, poetry, social realism and autobiography that’s unprecedented in Danish literature. We await future works from him with bated breath.

Excerpt:

The Lover


I was already older when a man one day approached me in the entrance hall to a public space. I saw your play, he said, it touched me beyond words. I did not recognize him but merely registered his movements, this boastful gait that stems from an upbringing in the provinces, he could have been anybody. Do you still smoke, he said, it is stiflingly hot, there are so many people, let's get out of here, can I offer you a cigarette?             


Very early in my life it was too late. When I turned 17 it was too late. When I was 12 I filled a sock with semen, the only thing I ever dreamed of was looking up into a man's asshole and breathing in a certain kind of air, love, I thought, the flapping wings of a bird. When I was 15 and a half years old the riding instructor came.


I often think of this picture that I still see and that I have never spoken of. The leather of the riding breeches against the inner thighs, the seam in the crotch, circling the buttocks, skin and skin. The sharp stench of horse piss, the ammonia makes the hay turn red and heavy, the saddle soap, the riding instructor's coarse hands. Yes.   


This I know, I groomed the mare, I ate in a cold kitchen with the brothers, the mother, her jaw: crunch crunch! That is the only thing that binds me to the mother: the cool melancholy and crunch crunch, I can't think of anything else, except perhaps for the big because. This is the mother's big because:  


             She woke up one morning to find that the lover no longer lay by her side. Is he by the sea, she thought, has he gone to the greengrocer for figs and artichokes, has he gone out to the stable. At night, the mother would search along the edges of ditches in the dark land. She imagined the lover bleeding, mauled by wolves, and like a wolf she herself howled at the sky, she sang and screamed in the clear and frosty night. By day she wrapped herself in dark purple and carried large tin buckets of cement out to the ditches that were visited nightly and which she would fill to mark, to check off; he was not here.          


Let me say that I am 15 and a half.     


                I am sitting in bus number 491 toward Fjaltring.   


                I have not changed clothes, I must arrive like this, engulfed by horse stench, that's what it says in the contract, those are the instructions, take off your clothes, you smell like shit. The sun light through the bus window, the flat fields, the ocean, it is the first time I am visiting him.  


I live at a state boarding school. I eat, sleep, study, I am seventeen years old, that I know. I know that the mother has connections or I wouldn't be sitting here, there are certain procedures in the provinces, there is a precedent for the preparation of a Danish pork sausage. I know that I was sent on a ferry, the brothers waved from the pier, the mother cried, first goodbye to the lover, then the Weimaraner and now the little one. I did not cry. I have not cried since I fell off a swing in elementary school, the cement cut part of my knee, but I focused only on the little scrape in the palm of my hand, it was the tiny drop of blood on the pad of my thumb that made me scream.


                 The brothers wallowed in the knee, the mother brought iodine.


                 The family is finite, the family is inadvertently blind, that we know. The family exists to remind the little one that there is a root and the root hurts and the root feels good and the root must be safeguarded, that is a duty, and the location of the root must be safeguarded, the flag is raised. Today I dream of flag-burning in the streets, I wish a deeper respect was shown for textiles than decorating them with symbols and shit, I oppose decorating newborns: here is your gender, your name, your flag and your family, may you try to escape it, may you choke on your own vomit, may you be sent away.   


             No, he did not cry at the pier, the little one, he has never cried over that family, he has never thrown up since the riding instructor's gin and gin, since he took the riding instructor up to the root in gin and gin, the little one has not thrown up, flung himself at another since the gin and gin and he has not breathed in the specific air he calls love since the gin and gin, now he breathes air through an ATM in the centre of the city, now he is hustling with thrusting hips in the parking lots of the provinces, now he is smiling and sailing away and gone.   


I have often been told that it was due to the much too strong sunlight of my childhood. My travels abroad every summer with my brothers, we wouldn't return home until September, school had long since started. The chemistry teacher places his heavy hand on my shoulder and pushes his belly against my back, my prick is throbbing in my small shorts, I have to remain seated for several minutes after the bell has rung. My scrotum is really sweating, my sandals are moist, my foot slips. I try to walk down the hall with a stack of papers in my clammy hands, carrying a cooking pot, potatoes, raw vegetables, and dressing from the display case in the cafeteria over to a table, I try to find a free table, try to sit across from a person, try to look a person in the eyes, try to find a person that I don't want to either screw or kill. It had often been said that the eyes were the real problem, that I had looked at the sun for too long, that it was hard to reach me in a way, it was hard to tell what I was thinking about and wasn't there something strange about my mouth? The brothers flashed their teeth everywhere, they tore the cutlets to pieces, bit into their notebooks, they laughed.        


But getting back to the mother. One night she went through the lover's room and found a trombone. She disassembled it and gathered all the condensed water and spit into a small cup. She pulled out large tufts of her hair, moistened them in the cup from which she spun 11 slim dogs that were silver gray and elegant. These dogs followed her everywhere she went. The entourage was noticeable from a long distance. She was in the centre with the chorus of dogs surrounding her, an oval and turbulent apparition, the dogs' raw paw pads against the asphalt, the supple joints, the claws. The silver grey fur shimmered in the sunlight, the dogs' saliva rose into the air like soap bubbles.


My life story does not exist. I know that now. Earlier, I had convinced myself that it was lying somewhere and vibrating, my story, that I could get nearer to it through writing. I was wrong. Never trust a life story. Never trust a man that does not like to lick another man's cock, that sits on a chair never on a man, that does not like to lick a woman's ass, that sits on a chair never on a  woman, that does not like to lick the cunt of a woman, that sits on a chair never on a woman, that does not like to lick a man's ass, that sits on a chair never on a cock, that sits on a chair never on a cunt, that sits on a chair on an ass.  


                  I'm telling it like it sounds.  


                  Write with your asshole, that's a piece of advice for a friend. 


I started to write the day the veterinarian came to inseminate the mare. She put on a long plastic glove and dug out huge handfuls of shit. Then she injected the stallion's semen through a thin, translucent tube. Those actions confused me, the blend of shit and semen and eggs, the merging of those two holes, I couldn't figure it out, I was on the verge of tears. I wanted to draw it in order to understand but I couldn't, my hands were shaking.     


I see now that when I was very young, 13 or 14 years old, I had a face that would foretell what I would later get due to alcohol. The fat of my nose, the skin surrounding my cheek bones, the lustre of my eyes. I desired everything that could flow through me, my face was an open invitation to the fermentation of wine in my pores. This pocked face of mine had been noticed before I had had my first taste of beer and it had been registered that there was something different about it which was called precocious, the riding instructor whispered guilty after an hour.  


             One night I ruin his Kieffer saddle. 


             I sneak a pair of scissors out of the kitchen drawer, tiptoe out to the yard, into the stable without turning on the light, go through the stable, enter the saddle room, groping my way. I gasp for air, strike down hard, cut through and squirt into the riding breeches, strike, cut, squirt.                         


             Fifteen and a half.   


I get off the bus. 


It's freezing and the sun is bright, the mother is worried that the water pipes will freeze, that she will have to bring buckets of water to all the thirsty animals. I am worried that he will send me home on the last bus, they only run three times on Saturdays. I can hear the ocean from here, I know that the polar bear swims, I know that his nipples will grow small and hard when the polar bear swims, that his cock will grow short and tight and jut out, that the foreskin protects the head. I am early, I go into the grocery shop, they have cheese and wine, the owners are lesbian, that is a known fact, they don't mind if you stink of shit. One ought to purchase something, one cannot arrive empty-handed, one will have to buy a bottle of wine for him, one will have to buy cheeses also, one will.     


It was during the course of this journey, where the picture seemed to be liberated, that it could have broken loose from the whole. If it hadn't had been because, because. The because of the mother, the because of the provinces, of the riding instructor. I say journey because the bus, because Fjaltring, the ocean, him. I feel nothing for the whole, I don't know it, I say the centre of the city and see nothing, I say the mother and the brothers on the farm, I cannot take the big picture upon me, I hardly know what the little picture is depicting, in that sense there is hardly talk of a liberation but rather a pool of mud. Sand, gravel, clay soil, what-have-you, crusts and landslides. When I was ten, God asked me to make all of my moments hold hands. I have never cared for prayers, I have never cared for God. Instructions on the other hand, well that's something else.


            Seventeen and a half. 


I get off the bus. 


I find the stairs from the car deck and go up through the ferry, out to the railing. The principal comes over and stands beside me. She has a pale mouth, slender hands, she points toward the landscape, her heavy finger rings, jade and gold. In my diary entries I refer to her as the Hostess, the Lady, the Wife.  I hardly write about the landscape. It all flows out like ink stains, my writing has no perspective.     


I always get off the bus once we're aboard the ferry, even if it is night, because I am always afraid, afraid that the ropes will give way, that we will get lost at sea. I stand by the railing and look out into the darkness. I am interested in death by drowning. I am interested in many forms of death, but there is something about death by drowning that I find particularly methodical; the slowness, the silent penetration of the water. Yes.   


I am wearing a dress made of real silk. It is worn, almost transparent, it is the mother's. I have the house to myself, the mother is out hunting with the Weimaraner, the brothers are with them in their newly acquired oilskin jackets, three sizes too big, two ridiculous green twin tents, silent in their veneration of the hunters, the instincts of the dogs, the stench of gunpowder and of dead game everywhere. The Weimaraner is the champ, it always wins everything, the mother calls it the grey ghost, she is the only woman among the hunters, men are such pigs.   


I go from floor to floor in the dress and inspect the house. It is like seeing it for the first time. I let my fingertips glide over the cold granite in the kitchen, the jars with jam standing in the scullery, the Argentinian porcelain in the display cabinet in the dining room. I move very slowly through the rooms, my bare feet writing forth the wooden floor, step by step. Then the oriental rugs in the room with an open fireplace, then the open damper of the fireplace, the ashes in my new big hands.   


I crawl into the fireplace, I can just manage to stand up in there if I bend my back. 


I look up through the black shaft. 


They return home with the dead Weimaraner wrapped in a carpet. The brothers cry, bustling about the mother and serving tea. She doesn't drink it, she sits with her back straight staring into space. That is when I discover her mouth. A chill runs down my spine. Her mouth: ridiculous and cruel. She does not look at me as she says these words: I'm going to kill them. I'm going to kill those bastards. 


I am smeared in soot. I am still wearing the dress.  

More info on the author with excerpt in o.v. and EN or FR (PDF)

Other Works:

Pynt

Copenhagen: Gyldendal, 2013.

MING

Copenhagen: Gyldendal, 2015.