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.
Is the comedy album making a comeback?comedy
Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beachart
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Malaysian cyclist could face disciplinary action after 'Save Gaza' gloves protest
- 2 Is Gideon Levy the most hated man in Israel or just the most heroic?
- 3 Fifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage from US parenting groups
- 4 McDonald’s removes chicken nuggets from the menu in Hong Kong amid major food scare
- 5 Students offered grants if they tweet pro-Israeli propaganda
Britain's Got Talent and The X Factor 'wheel on people who have mental health problems' says comedian Jo Brand
Fifty Shades of Grey trailer: First look at Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey
Fifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage from US parenting groups
Guardians Of The Galaxy, review: Marvel-lite movie feels half-hearted
Fifty Shades of Grey film stills
The 'scroungers’ fight back: The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Arizona execution lasts two hours as killer Joseph Wood left 'snorting and gasping' for air
Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash: Ukrainian military jet was flying close to passenger plane before it was shot down, says Russian officer
Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash: Massive rise in sale of British arms to Russia
Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash: victims’ bodies bundled in black bags and loaded onto trains
John Barrowman praised for Commonwealth Games opening ceremony gay kiss