“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, 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).