Paperbacks of the year: We, the Drowned, By Carsten Jensen (trs Charlotte Barslund and Emma Ryder)
What do you do with A Danish sailor?
Sunday 04 December 2011
"Many years ago there lived a man called Laurids Madsen, who went up to heaven and came down again thanks to his boots."
This crisp sentence makes for a fitting opening to Carsten Jensen's We, the Drowned. Drawing on Denmark's proud maritime history, this magnificent novel follows Laurids and generations of other sailors as they are seduced by the romance of the sea – before being brought down to earth with a bump.
The book spans a century, from 1848 to the Second World War, and evokes just how exhilarating it must have been to work in the golden age of sail, "with the trade winds behind and the hot sun above". But Jensen never loses sight of the brutal realities. There are visceral descriptions of corporal punishment and naval warfare, replete with grisly details (cannonballs plastered with "bone splinters, blood and hair"). Joseph Conrad said that nowhere is the "disenchantment more swift" than on board a ship, and Jensen knows better than most the truth of that remark.
The pronoun of the title refers to an inclusive narrative voice – like the Chorus of Greek tragedy – that also encompasses the women left at home. The most vividly realised character here is Klara Friis, a widow who wants to end her town's sailing industry, tired of seeing men return to port empty handed. Happily, Jensen has been more successful. He has retrieved from the sea a treasure trove of stories, and it is a rich bounty indeed.
After giving gay film R-rating despite no sex or violencefilm
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Miley Cyrus' homeless MTV VMAs date, Jesse Helt, is wanted by the police
- 2 36-year-old skeleton of dead baby found inside Indian woman
- 3 Pamela Anderson rejects ice bucket challenge because of ALS experiments on animals: 'Mice had holes drilled into their skulls'
- 4 Homer Simpson has taken the ALS ice bucket challenge because of course he has
- 5 The 13 obscure UK laws you didn’t know you were breaking
Led Zeppelin's Whole Lotta Love voted Greatest Guitar Riff of all time
Doctor Who lesbian kiss sparks Ofcom complaints over 'weird lesbian-lizard perv trip'
Nicki Minaj suffers wardrobe malfunction during MTV VMAs performance with Ariana Grande and Jessie J
Homer Simpson has taken the ALS ice bucket challenge because of course he has
Beyonce MTV VMAs feminist performance: Twitter reacts to singer's 'double standard'
Exclusive: We share blame for creating 'jihad generation', says Muslim strategist
Robin Williams Emmys tribute led by Billy Crystal criticised for including 'racist' joke about Muslim woman
The Rotherham child abuse scandal is a tale of apologists, misogyny and double standards
Scottish independence TV debate: Pumped-up Alex Salmond bounces back in bruising second round against Alistair Darling
Jeremy Clarkson is a cultural tumour and needs to be removed, says comedian Frankie Boyle
Air strikes? Talk of God? Barack Obama is following the jihadists’ script after James Foley beheading
- < Previous
- Next >