A review of Kim, Min Elskede by Jens Eisenhardt, Valby, Denmark, 1981, translated from the Danish by Stephen Foster as Kim, My Beloved, Acolyte Press, Amsterdam, 1988.
Love of one's love ***
This is the autobiographical story of a schoolteacher's passionate love for his boy pupil in provincial Denmark, consummated in 1962 when they were respectively thirty and fifteen. I agree with the author that this should not be problematic: the lovers have an equal need for one another, surely the only equality that should matter in love (as opposed to the superficial equalities of age or status for want of which it would be vilified today). There can also be no questioning the sincerity and altruism of Jens's love or its generally beneficial effect on Kim. The only doubt I have of the latter is if it was not occasionally suffocating for Kim, for example Jens's horror at Kim's revelation of a possible interest in girls. Similarly, I was unsurprised Kim reacted furiously to being questioned by the "drunken bum" as to why he had arrived late. The description of this incident is also though an example of the invariable honesty, sometimes brutal, with which the story is told.
It is however a story of torment as much as joy. An apt metaphor for the whole is the amusingly recounted episode when Jens agonisingly sprains his back lifting Kim up for their first kiss. The narrative is most incisive in its depiction of the debilitating effects of a love being forbidden. Instead of being able to indulge his craving "to be able to shout my love from the rooftops", the threat posed by the law hangs like a dark cloud over their time together. Was this not oddly excessive for the era in which it is set? I would certainly expect constant fear to weigh down a pederastic love affair today, but the novels Finistère and Sandel, set only a few years earlier in France and England respectively, show how with a little imagination teacher/boy affairs could then be managed calmly and yet much less furtively. Was it really necessary in those less suspicious days for a teacher and pupil of the same sex to check into seperate hotel bedrooms?
"Tell me, you wise people who read this book, can one be in love with his own affection?" asks the author towards the end. The book's greatest flaw is that this seems so accurately to describe his feelings. A title of "My Love" would be less misleading. It is hardly at all about Kim, of whom we are told almost nothing. The existence of his family is only alluded to in two sentences. Despite no suggestion he is unsociable, no friend is every mentioned besides Jens. His taste for sweet food and drinks aside, his likes and dislikes, his longings and fears, his upbringing and ambitions are entirely unexplored.
Knowing nothing about the beloved makes it harder to empathise with the love. The references to his looks are only just enough to gather they were nothing special. So why did Jens love him? He describes the depth of his love eloquently, but the nearest he comes to explaining it is to reiterate that he loves everything about him: "the snot in your nose, the wax in your ears, the cheese between your toes" and many other things I personally find distasteful to dwell on, and which periodically mar his writing for me.
I found much the most captivating passage in the book to be its quotation of Petronius's story of the seduction of the boy of Pergamum. This made me realise how distant the rest of it is from great literature, despite its merits.
Reviewed by Edmund Marlowe on Goodreads.com, 26 April 2014.