I’ve been meaning to read Thomas E. Kennedy’s Copenhagen Quartet for some time and was sent a copy of the final instalment recently. This might seem an odd place to start a series but I’d been assured that all the novels stand alone, as indeed this one did although I am left wondering if I’ve missed lots of connections by leapfrogging the first three. Kennedy is an American writer who like Patrick Bluett, the main protagonist of Beneath the Neon Egg, is a New Yorker who has spent many years living in Copenhagen. Apart from a deep love of jazz which clearly Kennedy shares with his character I hope the resemblance ends there.
The novel opens with Bluett on his way to an assignation. It’s the coldest winter he’s known in his twenty years of living in Copenhagen and he’s heading north. He knows this is a risky venture – Benthe is the wife of an important business contact – and when he arrives it seems that things are more complicated that he had thought: rather then one woman there are two, both of whom expect to sleep with him. Now in his forties, Bluett has recently left a rancorous marriage. His life consists of translating five pages a day – just enough to keep himself – listening to jazz, drinking, trawling music bars and trying to build bridges with his two children, both young adults. His best friend Sam thinks himself in love with a beautiful young Russian but things take a very dark turn when Sam is found dead. This isn’t a crime novel, however, more an exploration of loneliness and longing.
Perhaps it’s because Kennedy has lived for so long in Denmark that his book reads very much more like a Scandi novel than one written by an American. Taking its structure from John Coltrane’s jazz symphony, A Love Supreme, with each section named after one of the four tracks, it’s saturated in music – an essential element in Bluett’s life. Bluett is a man yearning for intimacy: when he meets a woman he wonders what she’s like in bed but when he’s presented with that clichéd male fantasy – sex with two women – it leaves him empty, unable to boast about it to Sam as he’d anticipated with relish. A deep yearning and loneliness permeates the novel – brief moments of ecstasy are followed by long introspective passages full of longing. I found it surprisingly moving, and was relieved that it ended on a note of optimism. The proof of the pudding is that I’ll being buying a copy of the first instalment very soon.