Kennedy does for Copenhagen what Joyce did for Dublin.
—David Applefield, Publisher / Editor of Frank: An International Journal
of Contemporary Writing & Art, published in Paris
(quote appears in Frank)
The Copenhagen Quartet
The Copenhagen Quartet website.
CQ Introductory Essay
The Copenhagen Quartet comprises 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 — although the first of the four, Kerrigan’s Copenhagen, A Love Story (2002), contains a wealth of information about the city that establishes a background of the Danish history and culture.
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Each novel focuses on a different group of characters and various parts of the city, incorporating actual streets, parks, cafés, and landmarks. Although each book has its own characters, at some point in each novel, characters from the others make cameo appearances. And in the final book, a chorus of personae from the first three do a quick, mournful dance across Queen Louise’s Bridge over Black Dam Lake on the north side of the city.
Further, each novel is written in a different style — one is experimental, one noir, one has a social conscience, one is unapologetically satirical, and each has its own musical score, mostly jazz with some Nordic classical scores and rock thrown in.
The first of the four, Kerrigan’s Copenhagen, A Love Story (2002) 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 eponymous Kerrigan, 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.”
And under a section titled, “Books: Literature post-World War II,” The Rough Guide to Denmark states:
The Danish capital co-stars in this witty, erudite, Joycean-style tale of an American writer attempting to come to terms with his past through the help of Copenhagen’s many bars. Each chapter is devoted to a different watering hole, with the loveable if frustrating hero encountering a host of characters and musing on topics like city life, beer, books, jazz, sex, cigars and architecture, among other things.
(KENNEDY’S NOTE: I was glad to learn that my novel is mentioned so favorably in The Rough Guide to Denmark, and I’m grateful to the authors — Lone Mouritsen, Roger Norum, and Caroline Osbourne — for choosing to include it. The guide mistakenly shows that Kerrigan’s Copenhagen is out of print. However, readers should know that although the original publisher [Wynkin de Worde in Ireland] is now out of business, the novel can be expected to see print again in the near future. Meanwhile, some remainders are still available.)
The second novel, Bluett’s Blue Hours (2003), jumps the seasonal order to take as its setting a 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 third part of the Quartet, Greene’s Summer (2004), focuses primarily on two damaged characters trying to find their feet again — the Chilean torture survivor Bernardo 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 final volume of The Copenhagen Quartet takes place in autumn — the fall, actual and metaphorical, of Danish Fall (2005), 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 Cannonball Adderley, Miles Davis, Hank Jones, and Art Blakey. But the Quartet ends with neither a bang nor a whimper — rather with “fear, worship, hope” and a recognition of the possibility of simple human decency.