Expecting this to be a sharp story about internecine office politics, the reader instead gets an odd bric-a-brac of a book. Ostensibly, the story is about a Copenhagen corporation known as the Tank which is forced to downsize and the impact the restructuring has on the lives of the characters and their families.
In the opening chapters, we visit each of the key protagonists as they rise in the morning and prepare to face the day. The author, Thomas E. Kennedy, is a sixty-something American who has lived in Denmark for decades; ditto the main character, Frederick Braithwaite. Braithwaite is a high-earning company man who finds himself facing an uncertain future and peering into the past with an increasingly melancholy eye. Other characters come straight from the box marked `clichéd office personnel' and include a ruthless CEO, a sex-mad subordinate, an unhappy female executive as well as various alienated offspring. These people are impossible to warm to and the author fails to make us care about what happens to them.
Sometimes there is an uncomfortable linguistic clash and the awkward insertion of a word translated. The author uses a great many adjectives and a great deal of unpleasant language. All this became wearing though one could live with it. But Kennedy's occasional forays into the bulky (or otherwise) contents of the characters' toilet bowls were not so easy to stomach and I'm afraid to say the book fell sideways before the end.
I should also point out to prospective readers that the type in this paperback edition is very small.
A lot of fun and detail about business men and their family lives breaking down around them. The language is an interesting part of the text comparing English French and Danish at length at one point. This gave me new insights into the way language affects culture, but it was all lightly done, not lecturing or hectoring the reader in any way. I had so enjoyed Kennedy's In the Company of Angels more concerned with those on the edges of society - old people, damaged personas, and attitudes to newcomers - but both books lead the reader effortlessly to think about the individual as a part of the group and how individuals' needs are not always understood , or met by even those closest to them.
In the second novel of the Copenhagen Quartet to be published in the US, American expatriate Thomas E. Kennedy shows his immense versatility, writing a totally different kind of novel from In The Company of Angels (2010), the first novel of the quartet. In The Company of Angels , is a powerfully dramatic story of a man who suffered several years of torture under Gen. Augusto Pinochet in Chile before arriving, physically and emotionally ravaged, at a Copenhagen rehabilitation facility which treats victims of political torture. In this new novel, Kennedy provides a vision of a totally different side of Copenhagen in a totally different style of writing, broadening his overall themes and his depiction of this city. Here he focuses on the business world of one company, establishing a set of characters whose business and personal lives become so intertwined that the characters fail to grow or even recognize who they really are.
In fifty-three individual episodes, the most important main characters, who illustrate business stereotypes, gradually come to see the limitations of their lives, and some even prepare to make changes. Ultimately, these characters deal with the themes of love and death, freedom and confinement, and the worldly and the spiritual, though for several of them the emphasis here is primarily on the worldly. Copenhagen itself becomes the equivalent of a character here, too, as it continues to reveal itself ever more fully as a vibrant force, for better or worse, in the personal lives of its residents. Over the course of one week in autumn, three businessmen from "the Tank" and their families reveal their dependence upon their business environment--in addition to their own intellectual and spiritual ignorance and emotional vacuums.
It is not until they are forced to confront issues of who they really are and where they are going that some of them begin to grow beyond their stereotypical behavior to become interesting individuals struggling with life's realities. Among the main characters, is Frederick Breathwaite, an American in his fifties, who has been the public face of the Tank for years. He has a devoted wife and a bright twenty-one-year-old son Jes, who has given up college to work at a shop that makes keys and repairs shoes. Harald Jaeger, divorced from an angry wife, is a serial philanderer who has recently received a promotion to a high management position. Martin Kampman, the Tank's CEO, has been hired to "clean house" and reduce expenses by firing long-term employees, which he proceeds to do. He is the father of Adam Kampman, an alienated seventeen-year-old who finds that he has more in common with the non-conforming Jes Breathwaite and his counterculture life than he has with his parents. As these characters interact, they raise questions of honesty and ethics, the need for self-realization, the importance of the spiritual (through religion, philosophy, and literature), and most of all, the importance of true love.
Filled with observations about particular places and institutions in Copenhagen, the novel is laden with a variety of symbols and motifs--from literature, art (especially sculpture), jazz, the seasons, the spectre of death, and even a ubiquitous sausage cart. Major themes flit in, out, and through of the lives of characters, who do not always recognize their importance. Kennedy has written an unusual book with multiple main characters, none of whom, at the beginning of the novel, are self-aware or unique. As the themes unfold, however, some of these characters grow and escape their own limitations, becoming more human and less self-centered, and giving the novel a lasting thematic resonance. Mary Whipple