Bluett's Blue Hours

Buy this book from Amazon.comThomas E. Kennedy
Wynkin deWorde (£21.72)

by Linda Lappin

Thomas E. Kennedy, an American writer based in Denmark, has just come forth with the second volume of his Copenhagen Quartet. This ambitious and multifaceted project follows on the modernist tradition of novels celebrating the spirit of the world's great cities, with their many moods and stories: Joyce's Dublin, Durrell's Alexandria, Anais Nin and Henry Miller's Paris.

In the first volume, Kerrigan's Copenhagen, an American writer romped in picaresque style across the city, researching a book about the bars and eateries of his adopted home. Accompanied by a seductive Research Assistant, Kerrigan led the reader on a series of gourmet and erotic adventures, while offering a whirlwind introduction into the cultural history of this Northern capital. Set in spring, the novel told the story of autumnal lovers reawakening to the pleasures of life.

Bluett's Blue Hours, by contrast, is set in mid-winter—when the long Nordic nights drive the wolves out on the prowl in search of satisfaction. Essentially a mystery, it explores the darker moods of Copenhagen en noire. Bluett, an American translator adrift after his divorce, gropes through a mist of vodka and jazz trying not to lose contact with the few things that keep him human: his children—at once affectionate, exploitive, indifferent— his sexual appetites, and his only real friend, Sam. Sex-starved and lonely, Bluett looks up an old flame, but her demands for commitment put him off. Sam instead embarks upon an exciting affair with a mysterious Russian blonde, arousing Bluett's envy. Soon after, Sam is found dead, with his head in a plastic bag and his hands bound with a necktie.

Sam's unexpected death drags Bluett into the eerie underworld of Copenhagen's sex clubs. Bluett's most unsettling discovery is Sam's diary recounting a life-long battle against self-depravity. Disbelief, pity, disgust, curiosity—a prickle of jealousy and a dash of voyeurism—all spur Bluett on to investigate Sam's secrets, putting his own life at risk while grappling with a troubling question: how far can the pursuit of pleasure go between consenting adults before becoming destructive? With one eye focused on the corruption within and the other on the dangers without, Bluett stumbles on towards an acceptance of human carnality and relationship, our heritage of "mire and blood."

A key theme in Kennedy's work is the search for verisimilitude—the means through which writers create a semblance of reality and transform the stuff of life into a fiction. In Kerrigan's Copenhagen, Kennedy structured the novel like a tourist's guidebook; each chapter is set in a bar or eating place, the name and address of which are printed in the heading. In Bluett's Blue Hours, music, especially jazz, sets the tone for many scenes, while the chapters bear the names of songs. Instead of a table of contents, a "soundtrack" appears at the beginning of the novel, so that readers can imagine (or even listen to) the selections, thus entering into the proper mood as story progresses. These strategies eke away the boundaries between reality and fiction, while drawing the reader even deeper into the narrative web.

Only halfway through his projected Quartet, Thomas E. Kennedy presents a complex picture of contemporary Copenhagen. His characters—spiritually dispossessed, victims of cancer, crime, divorce, exile, and political persecution—struggle through solitude and hunger to find a simple and stark faith in life. Joy, love, fear, rage, lust, horror: all find a place in these rich and insightful novels.

Rain Taxi Online Edition, Spring 2004 | © Rain Taxi, Inc. 2004