The Copenhagen Quartet by Thomas E. Kennedy
Four independent novels about the souls and seasons, the light and jazz and serving houses of the Danish capital. Each volume can be read independently or all four can be read together, consecutively, or in any order the reader might wish. Each of the four novels is set in a different season (they range from the extreme dark of winter to the white nights of summer), and each is written in a different style, and each focuses on a different group of characters and various parts of the city, incorporating actual streets, parks, cafés and landmarks.
Further, each novel is written in a different style – one is experimental, one noir, one has a social conscience, one is unapologetically satirical, one is a novel disguised as a guide to the serving houses of Copenhagen, and one is noir, dealing with death, jazz and all that goes with it. Each has its own musical score, mostly jazz with some Nordic classical scores and rock thrown in.
The first of the Quartet, In the Company of Angels (2010), set in summer, focuses primarily on two damaged characters trying to find their feet again – the Chilean torture survivor Bernardo (Nardo) Greene, who is in Copenhagen for treatment at the Torture Rehabilitation Center, and Michela Ibsen, a young Danish woman who has herself survived a violent marriage. Four other characters form the constellation around them: Bernardo’s psychotherapist, being driven mad himself by the horrors Nardo reveals to him; Michela’s young lover, a confused potentially violent Danish lawyer named Voss Andersen; and Michela’s aged parents, her mother who lives in a fog of distant memory and her father, mentally intact, but riddled with cancer and refusing to die until he has clarified his identity to his own satisfaction. The drama plays out against the long yellow nights of mid-summer in Denmark where Bernardo, caught between his new country’s humanism and its racism, seeks to find the summer which has been promised to him by two angels who visited him at the depth of his agony in a torture chamber.
The second volume of The Copenhagen Quartet takes place in autumn – the fall, actual and metaphorical, of Falling Sideways (2011) in which the fates of a dozen characters are decided by a professional down-sizer brought in to trim the human fat from a Copenhagen firm. It is also a story of fathers and sons – an American, a Dane, an Afghani – and the conflict of their visions of life. At the age of 59, Frederick Breathwaite, an American in Denmark who has found comfort in the materialistic life of good food and drink and art, loses the position he did not know he cared about, to be replaced by the 20-year younger Harold Jaeger, who cares about nothing but women. The puppet master here is Martin Kampman, who prides himself on being the one who “takes care of things,” tyrannizing his wife, children, and employees. Breathwaite makes a final bid to trade what is left of his influence for a foot in the door of the firm for his 22-year-old son, whose life is on hold while he works as the assistant to an Afghani shoe repairman on the run-down north side of the city. Meanwhile Harold Jaeger is punished by his ex-wife for falling in love with an office colleague by being denied access to his children, and everybody’s life comes satirically tumbling down with the autumn leaves – to the jazz accompaniment of Cannnball Adderley, Miles Davis, Hank Jones and Art Blakey. But the Quartet ends with neither a bang nor a whimper – rather with a recognition of the possibility of simple human decency.
The third novel, not yet definitively titled but scheduled for 2012, is set in Danish winter, a noir tale of jazz, violence, sex, death, love, and the underbelly of life in this northern city whose winters see only a handful of hours of near-light each day. It is also a story about the 45-year-old Irish-American Patrick Bluett, his relationship with his grown children, and his search for life in a foreign country after divorce. The novel borrows its four-part structure from that of John Coltrane’s majestic jazz symphony, A Love Supreme, which Patrick Bluett listens to as he gazes out the window of his apartment to the frozen street lakes of his adopted city, unaware that the body of his best friend lies dead in the apartment across the hall – murdered, or is he?
The last of the four, scheduled for 2013, is set in spring. It is a novel disguised as a guide to Copenhagen’s serving houses, and each chapter takes place in one of some 58 different bars, though a handful of them are in Dublin when the main character, on the lam from his homicidal mother and his growing love for his Danish mistress, temporarily flees Denmark for the Irish capital, founded a millennium before by Vikings on Dubh Lin (the dark lake). Because this is the novel of spring, it is a love story, beginning with a perfect pint of beer and a beautiful woman and concluding with a waltz on the crazy tipping surface of the world. This is the novel that the editor of Frank magazine in Paris said “…places Copenhagen on a level with Joyce’s Dublin.”