A sui generis work, the third in the author’s Copenhagen Quartet, following In the Company of Angels (2010) and Falling Sideways (2011); these stand-alone novels have nothing in common save their Copenhagen setting.
Though the viewpoint character Kerrigan is not Kennedy’s alter ego, they overlap. Both are Irish-American expatriate writers, long resident in the Danish capital. Kerrigan’s current commissioned project is to sample Copenhagen’s bars (there are over 1,500) and write up the best 100; for the research, he has an associate, a woman in her late 50s, like himself. The bars they visit are itemized in boldface, guidebook style. It’s a hopefully never-ending project for Kerrigan, a serious drinker and a lover of Copenhagen (the novel is subtitled “a love story”). That love expands to pay tribute to the city’s history and its literary giants (Kierkegaard, Hans Christian Andersen). Coiled in this thicket of names, among the dates he rattles off like an auctioneer, is the story of Kerrigan’s devastating loss. He was lecturing at the university on verisimilitude, the writer’s creation of illusion, when a student transfixed him. Blonde, blue-eyed Licia was 20 years his junior but appeared equally attracted. They married, had a baby. Then, pregnant again, Licia disappeared with their daughter. Divorce papers followed. That was three years ago; the wound is still raw. What festers most is her accusation: “You are so blind.” Kerrigan is haunted by the irony that he, an authority on illusion, had been blinded by the illusion of love. All this he confesses to his associate, after bedding her; but, still in turmoil, he takes a quick trip to Dublin, meditating on Joyce. This attempt “to clothe himself in history and literature” doesn’t work, and a solo pub-crawl back in Copenhagen almost does him in. It’s 1999, fin de siècle, and maybe fin de Kerrigan, for the doctor has discovered clotting in both lungs.
Kerrigan’s unresolved angst is the artificial heart of this real, joyous celebration of Copenhagen.