Deliciously delicate, these Danish short stories meander along the sinister side of twilight, weaving dark descriptions of despair, duplicity and justly-deserved retribution. The 19 haunting and subtle stories in this anthology come from author Heidi Amsinck who, although born in Copenhagen, writes fluidly and artfully in English. This makes her writing refreshingly accessible for an international audience – although you’re never in any doubt that these tales take place in the slightly strange Scandinavian landscape, whether the setting is an urban art gallery, a woodland on the edge of the wilderness, a run-down antique shop, or the untouched-by-time, end of the railway line.
Some of the stories explore undeniably supernatural themes, but most are firmly grounded in the base desires of human nature. Charlatans and conmen get their comeuppance in these urban fables which lean more towards gothic horror than the traditional fairy tales of Hans Christian Andersen. The ‘horror’ is all achieved by suggestion and implication – and many of the stories are shot through with humour as dark as deadly nightshade. There’s frequently a sense of glee in how things transpire, when the tables are turned and the potential exploiter finds himself undone. Amsinck stands up for the under-dogs, the victims, the people who’ve been cheated or who’ve simply been abandoned and ignored by society.
Several of the tales explore the theme of escape, of simply walking away from modern society, from an over-crowded life full of white noise and broken dreams. Wish-fulfilment? Maybe. Some of the stories edge into the uncanny and are genuinely unsettling; others are simply sad. None of them is particularly long, although there’s hidden depths between these brief pages.
As can often be the way with multiple stories from one author, it’s best to read each tale on its own, with space for the scenario to flourish in its own right. Read a whole bunch of them too quickly, too close together, and they lose their identities and will merge into an amorphous muddle. This is a collection to be savoured, slowly, on cold nights when the wind is howling and you can imagine the ice forming in the corners of a disturbed soul.
Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason
Last Train To Helsingør by Heidi Amsinck is available at Amazon
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