Destination: Copenhagen, Denmark
Book: Beneath the Neon Egg by Thomas E. Kennedy (NEW in U.S. August 5, 2014)
In the fourth of the series of novels he calls the Copenhagen Quartet, Thomas Kennedy looks at the dark side of Copenhagen. It is winter in this noir novel, and many of the scenes take place in the dark. After all, in winter, you don’t get a lot of hours of sunshine in Copenhagen.
Each book in the quartet features a different season and a different style of writing. For instance, Kerrigan in Copenhagen, which I reviewed here, takes place in spring and is presented as a guidebook as an aging travel writer tours the bars and clubs. It would be an oversimplification to think of it merely as a guidebook, since it is also an homage to James Joyce with its stream of consciousness autobiography of the narrator. (Happy to discover that my review is quoted on the web page for Copenhagen Quartet, linked in the first paragraph above.)
Jumping into the debate about whether it is important to know anything about the author of a book in order to fully appreciate the book, I will just say that Thomas E. Kennedy is hidden in plain sight in all of these books.
Only a dedicated jazz aficionado would go to such lengths to provide a musical score for each novel. He obviously knows his stuff, with details of jazz musicians and their work discussed in every book.
Kennedy has Irish roots. His characters always include some ties to Ireland.
Kennedy is an American living in Copenhagen and a man fascinated with language. So we get main characters who are working in Copenhagen as writers or translators. Characters bring a fresh eye of an outsider to the details of Danish culture. A comparison of American ways and Danish ways provides extra fascination for American readers and travelers.
In Beneath the Neon Egg: A Novel (which was called Bluett’s Blue Hours when published in Europe ten years ago) we learn that many American jazz players spent a lot of time in Copenhagen, which offers numerous jazz clubs.
The headliner for this novel is John Coltrane, whose A Love Supreme provides the structure and symbol for a story that is basically about various kinds of love. I admit that I have not delved so deeply into literary deconstruction as to outline for you how these four movements, Acknowledgement, Resolution, Pursuance and Psalm align with the story of Beneath the Neon Egg–but I have a vague idea. (So shoot me for laziness.)
It is the appropriateness of the title “Love Supreme” that struck me. Beneath the Neon Egg deals with every kind of love from casual sex to parental love. The motivation for finding love of whatever type seems always to be avoiding loneliness (being alone.)
Each kind of love is challenging, but the most challenging and the one that turns the book into a mystery novel of sorts has to do with Bluett’s neighbor across the hall, a man so unlucky in love that he completely falls for a Russian prostitute and believes her attentions signify real love. It is a fatal mistake.
When Thomas Kennedy told me in an e-mail that he had adopted noir as the style for this novel, I was expecting a Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, big city detective solving a crime with gorgeous broads and deceptive business dealings in a setting of shadows. You get some of that in Beneath the Neon Egg. But this introspective angsty story is a far cry from the typical noir detective novel.
Bluett, the translator at the heart of the story, is not a man of action. His main motivation in life is to finish five pages of translation per day. But still, Kennedy’s writing style is unbeatable for putting the reader into the mood of the story.
Another day, another five pages, another evening, another vodka, Coltrane. Chair at the window watching the blue hour descend like mist. McCoy Tyner’s quiet piano chords lead into Coltrane’s moody tenor, addressing the equinox. Ought to get some skates, glide like a shadow on the blue ice, hearing music recorded neraly forty years earlier; himself a tiny lad, his parents young and good-looking. He has “Equinox” on repeat, vodka on his tongue, the tenor enters his ears like a sweet promise, orders his mind with sound that is a credible reality.
I think I prefer the European title, Bluett’s Blue Hours for the mere sound of the words, as well as the moodiness. But on the other hand, Beneath the Neon Egg, is puzzling and intriguing–teasing the potential reader rather than laying it all out–and so is the book. And the mere mention of “neon” surfaces a mental picture of a garish light blinking against a black sky.
Spoiler Alert: The neon egg is part of an appropriately surreal neon depiction of a chicken laying an egg that Bluett can see from his window.
And by the way, Kennedy is still up to his little tricks. He checks to see if the reader is paying attention by putting characters from the other three novels into this one. They wander through in cameo appearances at a bar or on the street. It is this kind of playfulness that makes me think of Nabokov as I read Kennedy.
The traveler looking for a guide to Copenhagen, will once again have the benefit of Kennedy’s meticulous directions for navigating the city as Bluett mostly beats a path from watering hole to watering hole.
Kennedy said in an interview: “The more you know about a place, the more your life is enriched.” Obviously I agree with that, or I wouldn’t be telling you about books that will enhance your travel! However, the tourism people in Denmark might not be thrilled by the menacing air of this novel. At least you’ll learn about a part of the city that you definitely do NOT want to visit while you’re pub crawling.
I have now read all four of the novels in the Copenhagen Quartet. You can read them in any order, but the author says on his website that reading Kerrigan in Copenhagen first gives you information that helps orient you for the other three.
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