Dark Danish tale should put author on the map
Review: Billy O’Callaghan
Thomas E Kennedy
Bloomsbury, £7.99;Kindle, $3.25
Following on from 2010’s acclaimed In the Company of Angels, Falling Sideways is the second volume of Thomas E Kennedy’s monumental Copenhagen Quartet to be reissued by Bloomsbury.
Readers need not feel overwhelmed by such scale, though: the links, apart from the location, are subliminal. Each volume is representative of a season in the Danish capital and, with no crossover characters, can and must be read as a stand-alone novel.
Falling Sideways takes us inside the fraught arena of a major Danish company, known only as the Tank. Every Wednesday at 9am sharp, the ‘mumble club’ assembles; four men and two women huddling to assess the market, the business, and to discuss ways of increasing growth or at least slowing the decline. And it is here that we find the main players in our story.
Martin Kampman chairs the meetings, a professional downsizer and relentless control freak drafted in to cull the flock to a manageable and more profitable size.
Also in attendance is Harald Jaeger, a man ruined by a lust that has already cost him his wife and children. Given such personal turmoil, it is ironic that his career, following a recent promotion into a senior management position, seems on the rise, but he remains helpless against his cravings and has now turned his obsession on the beautiful Head of Finance, Birgitte Sommer.
Rounding out the harried cast is Frederick Breathwaite, perhaps the most finely wrought of the novel’s main characters, an aging American and the company’s Chief of International Affairs. He is impotent and lost, a shell of a man, but though resigned to the inevitability of losing his job, is desperate to secure a future for his son.
All three men are stereotypes defined by their duties, and their existence beyond the boundaries of work is largely empty. But in testament to the author’s sure touch, they come to life as the story advances, and as the depth of their damage, sexual, spiritual and emotional, is revealed. And all three, without realising as much, are searching for a kind of love, the only thing of true worth after all the trading has been done and all the money spent. Both Kampman and Breathwaite have sons, Adam and Jes, who share an apartment and a girl and provide a nice generational contrast by revolting violently against the lives and ambitions of their fathers in favour of countercultural freedoms.
Set during a hard autumn in a city that quickly comes alive within these pages, the sense of impending darkness permeates every relationship, both work-related and familial.
Kennedy, an expatriate New Yorker, has lived in Copenhagen since the 1970s. Through a long and prolific career that spans eight novels and several collections of essays and short stories, he has earned profuse critical acclaim. Yet to the wider reading public, he remains little known. With the publication of Falling Sideways, and with the success that is sure to accompany the remaining volumes of the Copenhagen Quartet, this is almost certainly set to change.
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