Falling Sideways, By Thomas E Kennedy

An office-bound love story stranded in a cold climate
Click to follow
The Independent Culture

Thomas E Kennedy, an American writer based in Denmark, first reached a wider audience with his 2004 novel In the Company of Angels. While that novel had a love story at its heart, this second installment in what the author calls his Copenhagen Quartet is firmly planted in the Nordic workplace – a setting less egalitarian than you might expect.

A globally successful company called The Tank is in the process of downsizing. We're never told exactly what this institution does, but we do know that several of its employees are for the chop. American expat, Fred Breathwaite, the company's chief of International Affairs, is among them. Impotent both at home and at work, he also has worries about his youngest son, Jes, who has eschewed the expectations of middle-classdom for a job in a "bloody key-and-heel bar run by a Pakistani".

Breathwaite's fate is contrasted with that of his good-looking colleague Harald Jaeger. A "senior manager", Jaeger is a hard-wired womaniser, constantly in trouble with his ex-wife and currently under the spell of Birgitte, the Tank's head of finance. He desperately needs to keep his job to service his large alimony payments and gym membership.

Determining both mens' futures is Martin Kampman, the company's driven CEO. The most unlikeable of Kennedy's creations, Kampan is a control-freak with an unhealthy interest in the consistency of his bowel movements and his underlings' incontinence, emotional and otherwise. Like Breathwaite he also has a son refusing to tow the party line.

While Kennedy's ensemble piece will satiate readers' desires for more exposure to tasteful Scandi style – Breathwaite can hardly move around his apartment for Finnish art work – his characters' inner lives are less instructive. Redundancy has never been a sexy subject and as the winter takes hold, Kennedy's cast of malcontents embrace their own personal hells for extra warmth. Now perhaps if he'd introduced some literal back-stabbings, the kind with lots of blood, we might all have felt more at home.