Destination: Copenhagen, Denmark
Book: Kerrigan in Copenhagen, A Love Story by Thomas E. Kennedy, (New release in June 2013, original release 2002)
Are you thinking of booking travel to Copenhagen? Besides the Tivoli Gardens and the Little Mermaid statue, what will you see? If you fancy a pub crawl through the literary and musical history of Copenhagen, then Kerrigan in Copenhagen: A Love Story can be your guide. And this handy map of Copenhagen can help you follow Kerrigan or plan your own trip.
I don’t want to trivialize Kerrigan in Copenhagen–to give you the impression that it is really a book that the author could have titled “100 Bars (Out of 1525) in Copenhagen to Sip Your Snaps.” And in Danish, by the way, it is Snaps, not Schnapps–a small drink taken with a meal, usually aquavit. That detail is just one of thousands that you can pick up about Denmark in this complex novel.
The book is not just a regurgitation of facts. There’s a love story and contemplation of the meaning of an aging writer’s life. Besides having the magnetic draw of fascinating characters and a beautifully woven tale, the novel is funny. The writer, who comes from Ireland but was raised in America, drinks too much . That trait is a dangerous combination with his latest assignment–to write a book about 100 watering holes in Copenhagen. His assistant, a woman his age who does much of the research for the book, gives him opportunities to extend his perpetual interior monologue into a dialogue with another person.
We learn that Danes actually founded Dublin, and as Kerrigan wanders around the city, spewing facts about history, he circles frequently to Hans Christian Andersen, whom he identifies with tragic love. But even more frequently, something reminds him of James Joyce, and the reader realizes that Kerrigan is taking a walking tour of Copenhagen loosely based on Leopold Bloom’s tour of Dublin in Ulysses by Joyce. To make it completely obvious, Kerrigan carries a copy of Finnegans Wake wherever he goes and tells his associate about his lectures on verisimilitude.
The appearance of reality. The way a writer creates a credible illusion to get the reader to suspend disbelief long enough to listen and experience what the writer wants to transmit. Beneath the illusion…a deeper reality, that probably has little to do with the trappings of everyday life that were used to build the illusion–unless those actual trappings are what he’s writing about.
This little digression into literary analysis leaves us wondering if we can trust the details of the setting. But yes, they’re true. But what is the book about? Is it about Copenhagen, or is it about love? Or perhaps it is really a self-referencing novel about writing. Yes. It is.
The obsession with Joyce even leads Kerrigan to improbably hop a plane and actually fly to Dublin, where he visits several sites connected to James Joyce or to Ulysses. But that point made, he goes back to Copenhagen, and resumes his neurotically-doubtful pursuit of the Associate. The interruptions in his pursuit are caused by memories of his wife deserting him–an action he struggles to understand, finally leaving no doubt that the novel is about the importance of love–or at least a connection.
Kerrigan makes connections with all kinds of things, but primarily with dates. It soothes him to be able to place objects and places into a mental timeline. I can relate to this. As I researched a book on a Navajo artist, everything made more sense when I had a timeline. And as I write for Ancestors in Aprons, my website about family memories, the connections made clear by a timeline are invaluable. Kennedy piles on the dates in passages like this:
James Joyce was born in 1882, the year before Nietzche proclaimed the death of God and Heineken beer received the Diplôme d’Honneur Amsterdam, seven years before the birth of Adolf Hitler, when Queen Victoria was sixty-three and Sigmund Freud twenty-six. [And this continues for another long sentence tying Hans Christian Andersen's love, James Joyce and Henry Miller.]
His obsession with arranging things in a timeline also relates to his concern about his own aging and inevitable death when the brain that holds all this knowledge will be only a “pile of gray dust.”
He expresses his obsession with understanding the meaning of objects here.
It makes him a feel a little more complete to know who these two statues were sculpted by and when and that they were donated by the brewer Carl Jacobsen to the city in which Kerrigan lives. Makes him feel that the world surrounding him is no mere blur, that he knows it and the objects and furnish it…..
Any writer will love his thoughts about writing, like this one about facing the blank page:
A writer may tremble before the white empty page–however, the white empty page itself fears the fearless writer with passion who dares, who has broken out of the spell that says “you can’t'” forever.
Kerrigan in Copenhagen is the third in Kennedy’s Copenhagen Quartet. Kerrigan was first published in 2002, by an Irish publisher that went out of business, and the entire quartet is being reissued by Bloomsbury, a UK and American publisher. Falling Sideways and In the Company of Angels are now available, and soon you can get the final book, The Neon Egg. All the books take place in Copenhagen, each in a different season, and as the author explains on his web page, “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.”
Having read Kerrigan in Copenhagen, I would like to read the rest of the critically acclaimed quartet of novels. I read this book in electronic form, because that is what the publisher provided for review, but I would recommend getting the print copy, so that you can easily flip pages to refresh your memory if you get lost in the wanderings. And it certainly would be helpful to have a map at hand.
If you want to read an excellent and thought-provoking novel, this one belongs in your library. As a traveler who likes to bring into focus the “mere blur”, you’ll definitely want to add it to a traveler’s library. And the bibliography at the end will ensure you have information about Copenhagen to last a lifetime.
Although it takes some concentration, and some curiosity about all things Danish, and although it indulges in hidden messages and some word-play, Kerrigan is not nearly as difficult as Ulysses. As Kerrigan says in the novel:
So even if some experimental fiction is a challenge to read and some readers may not wish to accept that challenge, it is nonetheless an important feature of our literature, of our culture, of our lives as human beings (as opposed, say, to our lives as zombies).
Note: Pictures used are from Flickr, used with Creative Commons license. The links to Amazon allow you to easily shop for the books, but you should know that I have an affiliate relationship with Amazon, meaning I make a few cents each time you purchase something through those links. Thanks for your support!