When were you happiest?
I’m happy whenever I do something that makes me forget myself – driving, fishing, reading, writing – but I am happiest whenever I can disappear into a situation that is overwhelming: the last time I fell in love; when my children were born; when I wrote my last novel – no thoughts, no reflections, only light . . . and a world opened up.
What is your principal defect?
I constantly try to please other people. (The fact that I so often fail to do so, is another, I guess.)
What makes you depressed?
The desire to please, combined with a rather self-scrutinizing mind and a more-than-normal sense of shame – the combined effects of these sometimes create a downward spiral. On the other hand, they can also fuel fiction, which was the case with my first novel, (a reviewer described it as “a monument of male shame”) and that was actually fun to write.
What do you most dislike about your appearance?
Oh, it has to be my rather yellow teeth, as a journalist so kindly pointed out in a feature about me some time ago . . .
What is your favourite word?
‘Weltschmerz’. Or ‘zeitgeist’. German words in general, actually. The ambition in them to reach everything. ‘Phänomenologie des Geistes!’ ‘Zein und Seit!’ And the nightside of this ambition, ‘Totalkrieg.’ What a word that is.
What is your most unappealing habit?
Maybe all the brain-like chewing gums I leave behind everywhere I work.
What is your favourite smell?
Shrimps, they smell fantastic!
What is your guiltiest pleasure?
Oh, come on!
Who are your favourite writers?
Oh, that’s the most difficult question of them all! My favourite novel is definitely Celine’s Death on Credit: Celine is the only modernist who can make one laugh. Melville’s s Moby–Dick, Tolstoy’s War and Peace and, the novel of all novels, Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past, has to be on a list like this. Borges and his short story ‘Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius’ should also be mentioned, as well as ‘The Dead’ by Joyce (which is the best thing he ever wrote). Among poets, there is no better than Hölderlin.
What is the worst job you’ve done?
No doubt the one I had when some of the people I was supposed to nurse and take care of threw their own excrement on me when I came in the morning.
When did you last cry, and why?
At a friend’s wedding a few weeks ago. I don’t know why, actually, there was no obvious reason, I guess I’m just too sentimental. Just kidding . . . I’m in love with his wife.
What do you most value in you friends?
The fact that I can trust them and that their thoughts are unpredictable. And of course that they like me, maybe even more than I like them!
What gift would you most like to possess?
I would like to be faster, and to be better with a ball, and to read the game quicker – and if this came true, the gift of being sixteen, so that I finally could play football on a level that matched my own ambition at that time.
What was your most embarrassing moment?
There is no such thing as my most embarrassing moment, there is a catalogue. But to mention two: I once hit a girl in the face in front of a crowd and I once copied a poem and stated that it was written by me, in my own diary.
What is your most treasured possession?
I honestly don’t have such a thing.
What is the worst thing anyone’s said to you?
‘None of the girls in our class fancy you,’ a girl once told me, in front of a crowd.
If you could edit your past, what would you change?
My life is edited alright, actually, but the casting is terrible, especially my father: who on earth placed him there, in that all-important role?
What is your greatest fear?
Death, of course, in all its shapes and forms.
If you could go back in time, where would you go?
The romantic novel-version of the seventeenth century: when the sea was full of whales, the forests full of bears and wolves, and Shakespeare, Rembrandt and Newton actually lived.
What is the most important lesson life has taught you?
That it doesn’t really matter.