PUBLISHERS OF LITERARY FICTION SINCE 1983
Heinesen is the last of the 20th-century masters of Nordic letters still to be discovered by a global readership. A match with Iceland's Halldór Laxness, Denmark's Karen Blixen and Norway's Knut Hamsun, he was the one who wrote from the smallest of the northern worlds, the tiny community of Tórshavn in the Faroe Islands. I use every opportunity I get to bang the drum for his books. Now, The Tower at the Edge of the World, his poetic evocation of life on an island that to the vast ocean is 'just about the same as a grain of sand to the floor of a dance hall' is being published in a new English translation. I hope some readers of these words will follow him there.
Heinesen wrote The Tower at the Edge of the World as he entered his seventies and this magical almost mythical book sees an elderly writer looking back at his life and back at creation itself from his scriptorium in a tower by the sea at the very edge of the world. Most of the book comprises fragmentary memories of the author's Torshavn childhood but they're infused with the wisdom of age and a layer of childlike fantastical imagination.
William Heinesen(1900-91)- in his poetry, short stories and above all, six impressive novels – is his country’s chronicler, diagnostician and celebrant…
Heinesen knew at first hand the vulnerability of his Faroese kin - geographically isolated, unusually dependent on the elements for survival, and even today more churchgoing than other Nordic countries, with a culture of evangelism and charismatic sects, whether Plymouth Brethen or Seventh-day Adventists. Such anti-individualist movements, active from the mid-nineteenth century onwards, frequently showed downright hostility towards private, religious experiences and those guided by their own religious convictions. This hostility which could erupt into vicious and unequal conflict – for sectarianism came well-funded and linked to authority – stalks all of Heinesen’s richly worked fiction. The ugly incidents often pivotal to his narratives, and the tragic, sometimes brutal ends to the ordinary lives depicted, do not break up Heinesen’s surface realism. Rather they enhance it. The struggle between rival interpretations of where goodness and evil reside is an inextricable part of these mundane existences.
Both his musicianship and painterly sense distinguish Heinesen’s final book, The Tower at the Edge of the World, a loosely autobiographical tribute to the power of the creative imagination. It celebrates those empathetic abilities opposed by political or religious sectarians that enable us to identify with the frequently arcane being of others…. Heinesen speaks of people inhabiting ’opera semiseria’, which, he believes, without denying the dreadful, the destructive, is the genre most of us inhabit most of the time. It is a heartening vision.
Heinesen’s novels are translated into superbly flexible prose by the great scholar of Danish and Faroese literature, W.Glyn Jones(1928-2014).