First, a note on the title. ‘På træk‘ would most likely be translated to ‘Drifting’ in English. However, there are some things lurking in the two small words that should be noted. ‘Træk’ can mean several things: ‘pull’, ‘draft’ (eg. from windows), ‘move’, and ‘attribute.’ It is also the root of other expressions like ‘trækkerdreng’ and ‘trække på gaden’ which means a boy prostitute and prostitution respectively. And all these things come to the surface in this novel by Kamilla Hega Holst.
This novel was set up to be a modern view of the alienation of oneself and love in our modern world where everything can be bought and sold, and human relations are the most important and the most fragile things in life. So far so good, except you didn’t start to feel engaged with the characters at any point in the story which spands some eight years! In fact, I still feel slightly mad at the characters for being so pathetic as they were. Let me explain more in detail:
Kaya is the main character and I really don’t recall ever having read about a more pathetic character where the book is trying so hard to make me feel sorry for her. Always clinging to her relations and being rather obnoxious to everyone around her, Kaya constantly feels sorry for herself and lets herself be caught in some patterns that the author tries to make vague suggestions about are remnants of her parents’ ditto behaviour and therefore is supposed to make the reader go, ‘Oh, environment versus genes,’ and plays on the trope of the Copenhagen 1970s collective parents and their slight tendency to violence. The same goes for Kaya’s boyfriend from Jutland, complete with the trope of childhood trauma and alcoholism. It started to be very annoying very quickly, and I just wanted to shake her and scream for her to get a grip. And I don’t feel bad about that because despite the author’s several attempts of making it look like depression and anxiety, everything about the characters just read pathetic, spoiled brats grown up and now not coping with reality. If Kaya had actually attempted to do something with her life in stead of just accidently having children, having an affair with her boyfriend’s best friend, writing two books (which magically get published and awarded even!), and constantly relying on everyone around her to do her work, then I would probably have felt slightly sorry that she came down with a slipped disk and needed surgery. As it is, I didn’t.
In fact, the only characters you remotely start to find interesting are Kaya’s grandfather, a retired pilot now living in Thailand, and his Thai nurse/housekeeper. As the novel starts, it is the grandfather who gets Kaya to Thailand for surgery and reconvalescence and we then have her life story for the previous eight years in flash back chapters (luckily all the chapters are very short). The grandfather is throughout the novel insisting that Kaya should write his story about how he was in the RAF during WWII and the whole epoque of airline travels in the 1960s, and how he came to live in Thailand and only going back to Denmark in the summer weeks during the monsoon. His place in Thailand is part of a hotel and vacation apartments surrounded by building projects for similar hotels, Russian tourists, sex workers, lady boys, alcohol, and corruption. Yes, the whole tourist centered package with prejudice for garnish. Yet another annoying thing about this novel, it doesn’t go beyond the tropes but rather establish them more rigidly.
Throughout the novel, Hega Holst doesn’t allow the reader to actually engage with the characters for very long. The chapters are so short and the writing is stilted and shortened as well, no doubt to mimick a minimalistic style and a cliché-version of a depressive mind, but it just increases the distance between the reader and the characters. In fact, the only reason I finished this book was because of the short chapters. They just made me quickly complete them and maintaining a slight hope that in the next one I would start to care or get a glimpse into something worthwhile. Sadly, it didn’t happen for me. The whole novel is just one big exploitation of tropes and prejudice, and after the last page, you sit and regret that Hega Holst didn’t actually tell the grandfather’s story in stead. In the end, the most interesting part was the title.
This novel was actually short-listed for some prestigeous literary awards in Denmark last year, and I cannot help but fearing for the comtemporary literary landscape in Denmark when this can happen. This novel managed to remind me why I have always preferred non-Danish classics and older literature.
“På træk” kunne have været så god hvis det ikke var på grund af de mest intetsigende og irriterrende karakterere længe. Hovedpersonen Kaya er som et humørforladt og forkælet barn, og hele romanen er en optegnelse over alle de ting, som hun gjorde galt og de (gode ting) hun absolut ikke har fortjent. Romanen var sikkert tiltænkt som en historie om kærlighedens trange kår i en tidsalder hvor intet varer evigt og alt er til salg, men hvis Hega Holst da så bare have skrevet om kærlighed og ikke en rygradsløs person med et pinligt omklamrende forhold til sig selv og andre. Flere steder var det tåkrummende pinligt og jeg har virkeligt svært ved at tro, at sådanne personer virkeligt kan eksistere. De var simpelthen for sølle og de steder hvor der blev nævnt noget om deres humor eller gode sider, da ville jeg gerne have haft eksempler på det for der var intet ellers der talte til deres fordel.
Det eneste gode ved “På træk” var bedstefaren, bosiddende i Thailand med sygeplejeske-husholdersken og hans små anekdoter om sit liv i RAF og luftfartsbranchen. Personligt sad jeg med en følelse af at være blevet snydt for den historie da jeg lukkede bogen. Specielt fordi alt andet i romanen brugte så mange klichéer og forcerede billeder, at det ikke blev andet end en tam historie om en person man aldrig kom til at respektere eller føle bare lidt for. Sproget var også for påtaget minimalistisk, som om at afbrudte sætninger skulle være mere virkelighedstro. I det mindste var kapitlerne korte, så man kom hurtigt igennem dem og begyndte det næste med et svagt håb om, at der snart måtte være noget ved karaktererne der var interessant. Det blev der aldrig for mit vedkommende og det eneste som “På træk” virkeligt fik mig til at tænke på var hvorfor jeg i så mange år har undgået nyere dansk litteratur og givet mig en grund til det.