Sackings, cash and lust in Danish drama

Bloomsbury, £17.99

A NATIVE of Queens, New York, Kennedy adopted Copenhagen nearly 30 years ago when he was offered a job for the Danish Medical Association, which he kept for 28 years. Struggling artists come in all forms, though, and Kennedy’s lifelong ambition to novelise at last came to fruition in 1996 when he conceived of the Copenhagen Quartet, a series of four independent novels set in the city, each in a different season and written in a different style.

Falling Sideways is the second installment. It’s a satire of corporate culture that skewers the heart of darkness pumping in a certain contingent of the banking world. City readers sick of parodies of people like them may think it sounds tiresome, but it’s actually rather deft and original, and Kennedy does an excellent job of evoking the melancholic yet intimate Scandinavian city, whose freezing, black winters and bright summers set hearts and souls and egos on edge.

The action takes place at a corporate behemoth called Tank (quite what Tank trades in is left vague) and centres on three colleagues: Frederick Breathwaite, a sophisticated American expat, the paranoid Harald Jaeger, who spends an equal amount of time worrying about his job and nursing pornographic fantasies fuelled by colleagues, and Tank’s CEO Martin Kampmann, a cartoonishly evil, ruthless type.

It is Breathwaite’s and Kampmann’s sons that give the book its humanity and shape. Both reject their parents’ materialism, sharing a flat, possessions, and even a girl, providing an antidote to the brutal arch-masculinity of Tank.

Yes, there’s a bit of snore-worthy banker bashing here – if not in specifics then in spirit – but most City readers will enjoy Kennedy’s skilful probing of the way humanity, particularly men, behave in the savage jungle of the money-gilded office.