Solvej Balle

Solvej Balle

Solvej Balle was born in 1962, made her debut in 1986 with Lyrefugl, and
went on to write the highly-acclaimed According to the Law: Four Accounts of Mankind (praised by Publishers Weekly for its blend of “sly humor, bleak vision, and terrified sense of the absurd with a tacit intuition that the world has a meaning not yet fathomed”). She’s also published a book on art theory, a political memoir, and two books of short prose. On the Calculation of Volume expands the possibilities of the novel and heralds the arrival of a major literary artist.

cover image of the book On the Calculation of Volume (Book II)

On the Calculation of Volume (Book II)

The first year of November 18th has come to a close: on its 368th iteration, Tara Selter has returned to her hotel room in Paris, the place where her time problem began. As if perched at the edge of a precipice, she readies herself to leap into November 19th.

Book II of Solvej Balle’s astounding seven-part series On the Calculation of Volume beautifully expands on the speculative premise of Book I, drawing us further into the maze of time, where space yawns open, as if suddenly gaining a new dimension, extending into ever more fined-grained textures. Within this new reality, our senses and the tactility of things grow heightened: sounds, smells, sights, objects come suddenly alive, as if the world has begun whispering to us in a new language.

And yet as the world announces itself anew, Tara’s own sense of self is eroding, making her wonder just which bits of her are really left intact: “It is the Tara Selter with hopes and dreams who has fallen out of the picture, been thrown off the world, run over the edge, been poured out, carried off down the stream of 18ths of November, lost, evaporated, swept out to sea.” She begins to think of herself as a relic of the past, without a purpose or a place. Desperate to recover a sense of herself within time, Tara decides to head north by train in search of winter, but soon she turns south in pursuit of spring, as she tries to grasp onto durational time through seasonal variations. Book II is all movement and motion—taking us through the European countries of the North and the South, through seasons, and languages—an amazingly beautiful travelogue that is also a love letter to our vanishing world. To be continued...

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cover image of the book On the Calculation of Volume (Book I)

On the Calculation of Volume (Book I)

Tara Selter, the heroine of On the Calculation of Volume, has involuntarily stepped off the train of time: in her world, November 18th repeats itself endlessly. We meet Tara on her 122nd November 18th: she no longer experiences the changes of days, weeks, months, or seasons. She finds herself in a lonely new reality without being able to explain why: how is it that she wakes every morning into the same day, knowing to the exact second when the blackbird will burst into song and when the rain will begin? Will she ever be able to share her new life with her beloved and now chronically befuddled husband? And on top of her profound isolation and confusion, Tara takes in with pain how slight a difference she makes in the world. (As she puts it: “That’s how little the activities of one person matter on the 18th of November.")

Balle is hypnotic and masterful in her remixing of the endless recursive day, creating curious little folds of time and foreshadowings: her memories of the past light up inside the text like old-fashioned flash bulbs.

The first volume’s gravitational pull—a force inverse to its constriction—has the effect of a strong tranquilizer, but a drug under which your powers of observation only grow sharper and more acute. Give in to the book’s logic (the thrilling shifts, the minute movements, the slant wit, the slowing of time), and its spell is utterly intoxicating.

Solvej Balle’s seven-volume novel wrings enthralling and magical new dimensions from time and its hapless, mortal subjects. As one Danish reviewer beautifully put it, Balle’s fiction consists of writing that listens: “Reading her is like being caressed by language itself.”

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