Category Archives: Det Poetiske Bureau

Review of The Moment

My translation of Jakob Kvist’s review of the Danish version of The Moment (Øjeblikket).

A powerful debut novel about approaching life’s mystery

The Moment is an original, thought-provoking and beautiful book by Peter Holm Jensen, a Dane who has lived abroad for most of his life, mainly in Britain. It was originally written in English and has been skillfully translated into Danish by Alexander Carnera with an intimate understanding of the book’s core concerns.

Det Poetiske Bureaus Forlag, Copenhagen, 2022

By Jakob Kvist

Let me make it clear from the start: this is an unusual book. The Danish publisher calls it a novel in journal form. In diarylike entries, we follow the main character’s life in the Norfolk countryside, where he’s recently moved with his girlfriend, his meagre career as a freelance translator, his friendship with his neighbour, nature walks, pub visits, and wider thoughts about the relationship between thinking and acting in the world. The nature of time is a recurring question. The book examines lived everyday life through various theological, scientific and philosophical lenses. Existential questions are brought to light in a modest yet confident tone. Sensory descriptions of the author’s surroundings are complemented by quotations from, and reflections on, various thinkers such as Heidegger, Rilke, Mark Fisher and Kafka.

Everyday presence

The book closes in on things that are often buried under day-to-day life. What tends to remain unspoken is spoken here, in simple language. For example, a writing block is described as a moral defeat. One senses a forlornness, but it’s a forlornness that seems to be overcome by the way it’s presented in the journal.

Everyday life isn’t subjected to symbolic, psychological or self-help interpretations. What’s given most attention is what’s right in front of us, and so easily overlooked. By slowing down thought and focusing on the present, the book reminds us that we’re always in nature, and that in some sense it calls to us. The difficulty of realising this is hinted at in a very different passage from earlier in the narrator’s life that describes ‘a haze that began to gather between me and the world.’

As a freelance translator, the narrator thinks about the situation he’s found himself in: always looking at screens, waiting for jobs to pop up before they’re snapped up by other translators, and how this exploitative scenario has arisen and become accepted in the holy name of competition.

The moment

This book circles around ‘the moment’ as a different experience of time. An experience that’s foreign to us because it’s not born of haste and stress. When we’re busy, we do what we’ve got to do with blinders on. We’re absent, don’t sense the deep time that is the time of life, life-giving time.

By slowing things down and writing about what we often brush aside in daily life, you could say the journal is an example of what it preaches. By drawing back from contemporary working life’s invasion of time, the book enacts a particular way of being in the world. It says: by refusing to be distracted by the myriad forms of entertainment on offer today and managing to dwell where you already are, in this body, you can approach a different experience of time. A place where time almost stands still. This may sound abstract, but really it’s quite down to earth.

It seems to be a question of opening your eyes up to where you already are, where our surroundings seem to speak to us with a renewed presence. ‘It’s moments like these I want to write about. Moments when you’re stopped on your way and made to see where you are with new eyes. As when you work on a problem that seems unsolvable and all of a sudden the answer comes: it was there all along, why couldn’t I see it?’ One way to approach the world is through questioning it, even if ‘words flow through you in an unceasing stream.’

A sculpture made of scrap metal by a local artist is described as ‘so elaborate I have to walk around it for a while to take it in.’ It’s when we allow ourselves to be amazed by the things around us that we can begin to face the world openly. The things that are closest to us become ‘visible’, and the weirdness of their being takes centre stage. It’s easier said than done: ‘Sometimes the nearest things are the hardest to see’, because when we get used to them they lose ‘all mystery, all presence’.

Balancing between the personal and the impersonal

This book is a fine description of how one can use the stuff of personal experience to reach for what Jensen calls ‘the impersonal’. You yourself are the starting point, but the aim is to get beyond yourself to the light of being itself. By dwelling on the commonplace, we might allow it to show sides of itself that are usually hidden to us: ‘Doesn’t being lurk most mysteriously – nearest and furthest – among the things we move around every day, in the fact of their being here at all?’ But we don’t see the secrets of the everyday because ‘perhaps only our impatience obscures them.’

The narrator also asks: ‘Is there a way to seek the truth and be in the world at once?’ Does it make any sense to talk about truth in an atomised, individualist age of fake news? Is there a vantage point for observing the truth, or is everything just a construct?

Perhaps the truth consists in an ability to undergo the things that happen to you. The truth might emerge when we turn language inside out and let truth do its work on us: ‘Not pursuing it like a goal but trusting it without second-guessing, and going humbly about your life.’

Another line from the book: ‘Writing is a house of being under construction; sometimes you feel you’re living in rubble.’ Masterful way to bring Heidegger’s thought down to earth. When we live truly, we’re turned towards life. To sum up one of the book’s many insightful reflections, we might be the only species that can truly experience time, and this may be our chance to reconnect with the planet we inhabit. Maybe the ‘moment’ happens when we wake up to where we already are. A daily repetition that ‘makes the same new and lets you face the future, lets you function in the world.’

The Moment is a powerful book that shifts our habitual way of thinking towards a wider worldview. It’s a healthy alternative to the kind of self-help literature you see everywhere nowadays. You might even risk getting wiser about life by reading it. It’s simple, sure in its style and arguments, and open to the world. It finds a language for the enigmas of ordinary life that we so easily pass over.

This book reminds us that life takes place here and now, not in some abstract future. The moment, it says, is a different experience of time and an experience of another time. Or in the narrator’s words: ‘The moment lurks inside everyday time. It waits to give you back your life, like an event long prepared without your knowledge, like an act of fate. It needs you: your ragged past, your timid present, your whirl of thoughts, your hoard of words. It waits for you to step into the light of day, where it can find you and let you come into your own.’


For skandinaviske læsere: min bog Øjeblikket er udkommet på dansk ved Det Poetiske Bureau.


Peter Holm Jensen er noget så sjældent som en dansk forfatter der har fået sit gennembrud på engelsk og derfor nu er blevet oversat til dansk af Alexander Carnera, med støtte fra Statens Kunstfond. Løsningen på gåden er at Holm Jensen er et ægte verdensbarn vokset op i Tanzania, Canada, Indonesien og Danmark – og som senest har boet mange år i Norfolk, England, hvor han har ernæret sig som oversætter, fra hvilken periode hans debut, dagbogsromanen Øjeblikket (en. The Moment) om en freelanceoversætter der flytter på landet, stammer.

Øjeblikket er en dagbog over et dybsindigt og bevægende foretagende; forsøget på at genskabe troen på livet gennem det at skrive. Idet han reflekterer over hverdagslivet på bøhlandet i Norfolk såvel som over nogle af de seneste århundreders righoldigste litterære, filosofiske og teologiske idéer, søger fortælleren at arbejde sig ud over sin fortid ved at åbne sig for det ukendte, og måske for det evige… Dette er en visdomsbog, tyst og intim, som det vil betale sig at kontemplere koncentreret over.”

— Lars Iyer, forfatter til Spurious-trilogien, Wittgenstein Jr og Nietzsche and the Burbs  

Peter Holm Jensen, Øjeblikket, paperback, 138 sider, udgivet 2022, støttet af Statens Kunstfond