Forgotten modernist novel by Danish journalist/novelist Kristensen, who blends Dürrenmatt and Bukowski with a shot of Frank Norris in this moody, booze-soaked tale.
Ole Jastrau pretty much has it all: a good job in journalism, a “tall and buxom” wife, a decent family life. So why mess with it? Because, existentialism being what it is and all, it’s sometimes better to descend into hell than to serve in what passes for the heaven of Danish social democracy in the wake of World War I. Comes a bang on the door at electioneering season, and there stand a couple of grimy former comrades from his leftist past, one of whom paints him with a broad brush: “There’s nothing so irrational as the bourgeois mind.” Indeed, and the aperçu is all it takes to set Jastrau down the path of drunken self-indulgence that takes him into the no man’s land between madness and civilization, into “a Noah’s ark with bits of wreckage from his past and liquor and dancing people whom he didn’t know.” The descent is harrowing, but Kristensen would seem to have a larger purpose in making an allegory of soulless capitalism, where the answer to most questions is “earn some money,” and, as Jastrau grumbles, “A person can think whatever he wants to about aesthetics, ethics, and I don’t know what else. But if he has opinions that encroach on economics, then the freedom no longer applies.” Phrases such as “crude, swarthy, Negro fetish” and “Mongoloid features” are products of their time, doubtless, but one wonders whether the translator might better have smoothed them down. In all events, the book, originally published in 1930, seems largely a period piece, an expression of Dostoevskian self-loathing mixed up with heavy-handed cultural critique.
Bibulous readers might want to take the cure after following these hungover proceedings.