Kerrigan in Copenhagen by Thomas E. Kennedy

“A man can never know too many barmaids, he thinks.”

After watching the hilarious comedy film, Klovn, I’ve been fascinated by all things Danish. Following 60 episodes of Klovn the series, The Killing I and II, as well as anything else I can get my hands on, I find myself at Kerrigan in Copenhagen, a novel by American author Thomas E Kennedy. This is the story of Kerrigan–a divorced Irishman in his 50s who’s writing a travel guide about Copenhagen. The result is part travelogue and part novel, with the result that if you plan of taking a trip there, you could take Kerrigan in Copenhagen along and the book would serve as an entertaining guide–especially if you plan to go on a pub crawl.

kerrigan in copenhagenKerrigan, a rather depressed and unhappy man, trying to cope with the bitterness of a broken marriage that to him seemed happy, is in Copenhagen to write a book, “a sampling of one hundred of the best, the most historic, the most congenial of Copenhagen’s 1525 serving houses” for a travel guide called, appropriately, The Great Bars of the Western World. Kerrigan, who sees himself as a “failed poet” doesn’t feel very inspired by his project; the writing part doesn’t seem too thrilling, but the research isn’t too bad at all:

It is the city of a hundred vices and fiteen hundred serving houses, bars, cafes-more of them than one will ever come to know in a lifetime without a major effort. Kerrigan has decided to make that effort.

Kerrigan’s mother was born in Copenhagen, and so Kerrigan’s return is a spiritual journey, a symbolic return to the womb–not that he notes that. Kerrigan is too broken and disillusioned to do very much at all.  Armed with a well-worn copy of Finnegan’s Wake (“Not that he ever expects to finish reading it,”) and accompanied by his attractive, knowledgeable 57-year-old research associate, Kerrigan visits and samples various drinking establishments as part of his contract. Kerrigan in Copenhagen is packed with cultural information about this city and Danish customs, and we see Kerrigan and Annelise visiting various establishments while along the way, information regarding Kerrigan’s private life is gradually pieced together.  Quite obviously the author loves the city, and at times the novel feels like a lot more like a travel guide with just a touch of fiction (note the extensive bibliography at the end of the book). I was in the mood to read and learn about Copenhagen, so the travel guide aspects proved realism and were fine with me: 

If he goes right, to Charlie Scott’s at Skindergade 53, he will have the opportunity to enjoy Jazz Under the Stairs, featuring the astonishingly energetic Australian clarinetist and singer Chris Tanner, and possibly bump into guitarist and composer Billy Cross , who is the nephew of Lionel Trilling and does the best arrangement of “Blue Suede Shoes” that Kerrigan has ever heard and who inter alia has been lead guitar for Bob Dylan and occasionally comes into Charlie Scott’s although there, Kerrigan will no doubt drink many pints of inexpensive pilsner and will also be drunk and late for his associate.

This is not a fast-paced or action-packed read. Instead, the pacing here is typically & realistically leisurely as Kerrigan and Annelise discuss some of Denmark’s more famous citizens: Kierkegaard and Hans Christian Andersen:

“Moving right along,” he says. “What cafés did he frequent in Copenhagen?”

“The only café I know of that Andersen frequented was the Caffé Greco in the Via Condotti in Rome,” she continues. “Casanova, Canova, Goethe, Gogol, Byron, Liszt, the Danish sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen. Andersen used to go to Greco in 1833 when he was in Rome for the first time. He was twenty-eight. Just before he got famous.”
 “Let’s see,” Kerrigan says. “In 1833 Kierkegaard would have been twenty, right?”

“Yes. And writing in his journals about the sins of passion and the heart being nearer to salvation than the sins of reason!”

“Sounds a bit like Andersen.”

“To Kierkegaard,” she says, “Andersen was a ‘sniveler,’ the word he used in a review of  Andersen’s third novel. Kierkegaard was one of his sternest critics.”

“How did Andersen take to criticism?”

“Generally he would weep,” she says, laughing, and he cannot resist joining her, and somehow their laughter a century and a half ago makes him feel stronger in the realization that despite being a great artist, Andersen was pretty much a jerk and a baby.

“I read somewhere,” she continues, “that when he visited Charles Dickens in England, Dickens found Andersen lying facedown on the lawn of Gad’s Hill, Dickens’s home, weeping. Another bad review. Andersen also stood on the bank of Peblinge Lake–just a few blocks from here-and wept.”

Kennedy’s readers will be better served if they are a literate bunch interested in Danish culture, but while the emphasis is on Denmark, many authors pop up for discussion, including: Proust, Dickens, Maupassant, Sir Walter Scott, Hemingway, Steinbeck, Goethe, and Robert Louis Stevenson. The book’s full title is Kerrigan in Copenhagen: A Love Story, so we can too easily predict the path of Kerrigan and Annelise. We cannot, however, so easily predict the places these two characters visit or the various people they meet in this remarkable, much-loved city which acts as a marvelous backdrop for a energizing renewal for both Annelise and Kerrigan. Kerrigan in Copenhagen is the third novel in the author’s Copenhagen Quartet ( In the Company of Angels, Falling Sideways, Kerrigan in Copenhagen, & the soon-to-be-released Beneath the Neon Egg).

Review copy.

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17 Comments

Filed under Fiction, Kennedy Thomas E

17 responses to “Kerrigan in Copenhagen by Thomas E. Kennedy

  1. This seems offbeat and appealing. The cultural connection that you allude to sounds almost as appealing as the tavern visits.

  2. Hi, Guy–
    I’m interested in the movie or the show Klovn. How did you access it? I’m very curious and interested. It sounds fascinating.

    Thank you,
    Judith (Reader in the Wilderness)

    • Klovn is available in the US as Klown region 1, no problem. The series is region 2 which is fine if you have an all-region player (as I do). There are 60 episodes with two bonus discs. The series & film stars 2 comedians Casper Christensen and Frank Hvam ( I think I spelt that correctly). The series shows episodes from their lives with an emphasis on the absurdity of male culture. (IMO) It’s very original and very very funny

  3. Will have to track down Klovn as well but this book sounds very good, I like the angle. I haven’t been to Copenhagen yet but it might put me in the mood.

  4. Reminds me, well… talk of Kerrigan in Copenhagen reminds me…I was in that city some twenty five years ago…or was it thirty…anyway I had just come back from unfortunate events in Kristianstad in Sweden…or was it Happaranda…whatever, her name was Leone…or was that Marianne? Doesn’t matter, in Copenhagen I met a studious woman called Vibeke who sorted me out…then I went to Spain and the rest is history. Well, sort of. There’s more. I have just come back from a month in Toronto. Or, more specifically, a month in Jingles bar at Yonge and St Claire. I think I’ll write a book.

    • Ok, but I’ll expect something degenerate. Don’t disappoint me with something uplifting or any of that feel good crap.

      • Hi Gi.
        Well i hope that’s not a critique of my most recent novel but one, The Colour of Her Eyes, which I know you read…whatever it was I don’t think “feel good crap” comes into the picture…and my new book which I’m not sure came your way is hardly feel good either…difficult times we’re in…tho isn’t there some cultural see saw where writers balance out the prevailing zeitgeist by going against the grain? I’m sure there’s a mixed metaphor there but I’m in West of Ireland sipping sherry with my wife…Sunday morning ritual..that and Mass.
        Hi Gi,
        Well I hope that’s not a veiled critique of my last novel but one, Colour of Her Eyes, which I know you read…whatever it was I don’t think it was “feel good crap”…my most recent opus, not sure if it came yor way was hardly feel good either…though

        • No the ‘feel-good’ crap is a reference to what I don’t like to read or watch. The local video rental place knows not to recommend anything uplifting or inspiring or any of those other tired, old buzz words. I’m waiting for the sequel to The Colour of Her Eyes. No pressure, but that book was GOOD.

  5. oops sorry…the system seems to have turned me into an avatar…

  6. This is a city I’d like to visit and it sounds like a good companion book for a travel.
    How did you find out about this book?

    • One of my reading friends read it and loved it. I think she enjoyed it more than I did. I liked it, but mainly for the Danish cultural stuff. The love story was predictable.

  7. leroyhunter

    Interesting idea.

    If you liked The Killing, you should check out The Bridge as well.

    • I watched The Bridge but didn’t like it nearly as much. Part of it was the idea of this super killer who is always one step ahead of the police. Not that I have a problem with the idea of that, but when the killer assumes also super villain status (ie something you’d expect to find in Batman), it gets almost silly as it strains the credibility barrier. I enjoyed the culture clash between Denmark and Sweden though. But no matter, Killing 3 is on the books for the weekend.

      I heard that The Killing US remake is awful, so I won’t bother.

  8. I love Copenhagen. I went out there on business a lot a couple of years back, then returned twice on holiday. Our wedding anniversary is there this year, we’re staying in the Tivoli Gardens which should be quite special.

    For that matter I used to drink in Caffé Greco too, clearly this book was written with me in mind.

    Still, the third in a quartet? Does one not need to read the others? I note you haven’t read them yet, which suggests not, but it’s a slight concern.

    I liked The Bridge, but for the characters and the culture clash issues you mention. Super killers really bore me now, just too ubiquitous and frankly I don’t believe in them any more than I believe in vampires.

    • That’s a coincidence as I saw something on Tivoli Gardens last night. Looking at brief overviews of the novels, they don’t seem to be connected except for the Copenhagen setting.

      I’ll add that I didn’t care for the love story and I would have enjoyed the book more without it. However, the story served to ground the book and also show Copenhagen as a place where healing can occur.

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