Tom Kristensen - Copenhagen, 1930. There is a ring at the door of Ole Jastrau's fifth floor apartment that will ignite a spark of restlessness within his soul, leading him into darkened velvet portiere-entranced bars and brightly glittering night clubs, from the mundane grind of literary criticism to the nocturnal otherworld of alcoholism and prostitution

Tom Kristensen, Havoc, Trans. by Carl Malmberg, Nordisk Books, 2016.

A longtime cult-classic in Denmark, this novel about dissolution and despair has been out of print in the US for over eighty years until now.Ole Jastrau is the very model of an enterprising and ambitious young man of letters, poised on the brink of what is sure to be a distinguished career as a critic. In fact he is teetering on the brink of an emotional and moral abyss. Bored with his beautiful wife and chafing at the burdens of fatherhood, disdainful of the commercialism and political opportunism of the newspaper he works for, he feels more and more that his life lacks meaning. He flirts with Catholicism and flirts with Communism, but somehow he doesn’t have the makings of a true believer. Then he takes up with the bottle, a truly meaningful relationship. “Slowly and quietly,” he intends to go to the dogs.

Jastrau’s romance with self-destruction will take him through all the circles of hell. The process will be anything but slow and quiet.

Copenhagen, 1930. There is a ring at the door of Ole Jastrau's fifth floor apartment that will ignite a spark of restlessness within his soul, leading him into darkened velvet portiere-entranced bars and brightly glittering night clubs, from the mundane grind of literary criticism to the nocturnal otherworld of alcoholism and prostitution.
Originally deemed a cynical, pessimistic - and, above all, overly revealing - portrayal of life as a newspaperman upon its release in interwar Denmark, Havoc has since gone on to become a much loved modern classic in its home country, with its ‘longed for shipwrecks' verse becoming one of the most oft quoted in the Danish language.
Will Jastrau re-emerge into polite society, or sink to a place from where he will never resurface?

Havoc is one of the best novels to ever come out of Scandinavia. As discomforting as it is beautiful, it portrays the fall of a man, and it’s so hypnotically written that you want to fall with him.—Karl Ove Knausgaard

Tom Kristensen is a Danish novelist (this is again in the Nordic Translation Series) whose considerable corpus is relatively unknown here. Havoc, his major novel, appeared in 1930, a long, lugubrious, if cumulatively powerful story which tracks the predictable course of an alcoholic from deterioration to obliteration. Ole Jastran is a book reviewer, and when first seen is living in the commonplace comfort of his debts and her dishes with his wife and son. He brings in his raffish, radical, writing friends: he engages with them in boozy bouts of philosophical dialectics; he visits a priest and entertains hallucinatory visions when ""He [Jesus] is close to me."" The first half of the novel is definitely slow but it accelerates as Jastrau disintegrates--loses his wife, resigns from his job, sees his apartment burned to the ground, and is eventually hustled out of the city. . . . The strength of the novel resides in its determined realism but for the reader, as for his melancholy Dane, it is often a long time between drinks. - Kirkus Reviews

That a man should reduce his life to havoc in the hope of finding his soul among the ruins – such seems to the one course left open to the intellectual Ole Jastrau, living in Denmark in the 1920’s. Jastrau is tormented by a thorough disgust of his middle-class existence as a husband and literature reviewer. He is suffocated by correct attitude, meaningless conversations and celeb gatherings, where he most of all feels like a fool on show. He experiences the failure of all the nostrums men resorted to in the tormented time between the wars to cure the pervasive malaise of disillusionment. Religion promises him regeneration but offers instead the monotonous logic of a dogmatic theology. The great rebellion of the workers disintegrates into the comic spectacle in the streets of Copenhagen; and tired, disillusioned radicals retreat into their own intellectual circle to talk endlessly around the clichés of a failed ideology. “Beware of the soul and cultivate it not,” runs the motto of this novel, “for doing so can be a form of vice.” The feeling of emptiness increases and a visit from some friends of his youth strengthen his feeling of having betrayed his revolutionary and reckless youth as a poet. The frustration stimulates his propensity to alcohol and the havoc begins. While drinking himself to death, he bit by bit loses his wife, child and job. The come-down evolves as a kind of odyssey where we accompany Jastrau on the dangerous expedition through his desperate, fuddled and free-floating state of mind. His life and existence is a sinking boat and he is on it. Havoc is a sharp and intense psychological analysis of a self-chosen social and psychological collapse, a literary experiment where the course of life of the main character is written all the way down to an absolute zero. For Jastrau only complete chaos, havoc, remains. The progress of his degeneration and the sickness of the moral and intellectual milieu that provokes him to such an awesome self-destruction Kristensen records with detail so accurately observed, insight so ironic, and symbolism so powerful as to compel the conclusion that Jastrau’s course through the chaotic 1920’s, if disastrous, was the meaningful response of a sensitive man to a time that was out of joint. The book is however more than psychological reflections, gloom and drinking; the expressionistic aesthetics of Tom Kristensen is powerful, and in the aggression you will find raw and pure poetry. -

I was so pleased when I was contacted by Duncan from Nordisk the publisher , I had heard of them late last year via Susan from Istros who said they were publishing a classic Modernist Novel. The fact that this book isn’t as well known as many other books from its time.say Vile Bodies or USA both modernist classic published the same year as this book. THe book Havoc was the best known book by its writer Tom Kristensen  a poet as well as a novelist in fact the poem in this book Angst about the effects of drinking. Like the main character in this book Kristensen work for most of his life as a book critic for a newspaper.
“mother madonna, and comrade in battle,
Beloved woman and happy warrior,
Mother of revolutions
He intoned the words crudely, apropos of nothing and without looking at Jastrau, who cringed at hearing quoted the words of “proletarian woman ” one of his youthful revolutionary poems
Saunders smiledmaliciously
Jastrau made a wry face. “Oh that!” he said
His two friends remind him of his past and his present using one of his old poems as a weapon for him.
AS I said in the intro this is Ole Jastrau is a lit critic for the newspaper Dagbladet , is sat with two friends just as the election of 1929 is happening the two friends are communist and one is a poet like the writer himself. There future is pinned on the election , they remind him of his own past as a poet on the edge before he married and settled down with his wife. So as the two poke fun at him for his comfortable life, This then as his wife choose to spend time away from him, he decides rather than going to the paper one day he visits the bar opposite and then gets drunk , this starts off a series of nights and days where he lose time drinks and goes down a spiral into the darker side of the city of ladies of the night and cocktail bars and the colourful characters that live in them, Will Ole Jastrau come up of air pr will he fall of the cliff into the depths of the drinking world.
Jastrau got up quietly. Here among this group, he suddenly felt like a person in disguise, like a sober fool at a carnival.He had to believed that he belonged here? why did the memory of the two hooligans who had been locked in the cell next to his suddenly become so warmly intimate and pleasant ? was it there that he belonged down at the lowest level of existence where things were so nice ?
Jastrau sees where he ending up and still not sure if it is really for him .
When I start this blog it was to discover the world of books from around the world but now in recent years I feel part of the reason I love blogging is discovering those books that have been lost or missed and this is one of those , I can see why Duncan was so keen to republish the book , it did come out on a small university press in 1968. This is a true lost classic , a wonderful Modernist novel Part Blaugast part Vile bodies. Like both of them books it follows the inter war years where a certain class started drinking more and being in clubs ,cocktail bars and wild parties like Adam in Vile bodies Ole is drifting into the world of drinking the mad world of the bright young things in Copenhagen but like Waugh this is a thinly veiled version of the world he lived in the setting and jobs is all very similar to the writers own life at time and also shows  how easy it is to fall down that spiral of drinking like the lead character in Paul Leppin book Blaugast another man stuck in a mundane job in Mitteleuropa is driven this time by a woman into a spiral of drinking.This is an epic book of one mans life over a few tough months of his life. -

Read a translated review of Havoc from Danish broadsheet Kristeligt Dagblad here

After last year’s winter, which featured non-stop snow-falls from January to April (I am not kidding. It snowed on Palm Sunday last year), I thought I’d never be happy to see a snowflake again, but like Anna I was really getting concerned about the extremely mild temperatures we’ve been having; the blooming cherry trees and the March-like rain that’s been pouring down and soaking our Summer-shoe-clad feet this winter. Global warming indeed, and it scares me. However, a couple of days ago the first snow finally fell, the temperatures dropped to below zero, and we’ve been having a bit of winter. And thus I can finally get down to writing my entry for “Literary Year”/”Musical Year” – I simply haven’t been in the mood for it till now. (Or, well, actually I just haven’t gotten around to it until now. But I’ll blame the weather, because that sounds better). 
My literary choice for January is Tom Kristensen’s Havoc. This is the same novel that Anna spilled coffee all over, then lost to the force that is the biological process of moulding, and I keep forgetting to ask Anna if she ever got her new copy from that antiquarian bookstore, and whether she’s read it yet. Did you read it yet, Anna? In any case, as Anna pointed out, it seems strangely appropriate that this book of all books should eat itself up, because the main-theme of this very recommendable novel is in fact self destruction. Main character Ole Jastrau, a Copenhagen literature critic circa 1930, recognizing what he finds to be the meaningless of his existence, indulges in a reckless journey into Copenhagen night, an odyssey of disintegration of his own self, accompanied by a strange gallery of urban suspicious characters, and a whole lot of alcohol.  
I’ve been wondering why this of all novels would come to my mind when I considered which literary piece to illustrate the month of January on this blog, because unlike my choice for December, Havoc doesn’t deal with a particular month of the year, or a tendency towards depictions of snowy January landscapes or anything like that. But it does have that certain gloom and that aforementioned champagne-after taste of broken new year’s resolution that I tend to associate with January. More than that, it’s got a rambling flow that resembles stream of consciousness and a cynically accurate approach towards the potentially all-consuming power of decay.

The passage that I would like to quote here is from a significant scene in which Jastrau has gotten drunk and made a spectacle of himself at a dinner party and is taken home in a taxi by his embarrassed wife Johanne. Agitated and already well on his way in his downward spiral, Jastrau decides to make a final, fatal break with his own sanity and the world that could have saved him… I am quoting from the English translation of the novel by Carl Malmberg:
 “Johanne drew her wrap closely about her so hat it no longer touched him. There was a space between them, but he could detect her body growing rigid. He did not look at her.But then it came.
Why did you turn those photographs around at home?’ she asked harshly.
And in his mind he saw himself as he had been there in the apartment – how, unable to rest because of dissipation and the whiskey in his system, he had paced back and forth through the rooms and suddenly felt himself tormented by the two faces, the photographs of his mother and his son, how he had had a feeling that they could see right through him, and then he had turned the pictures around.
So Johanne had noticed it.
And there she sat in the corner of the cab, pale as a corpse and unassailable. He sensed his powerlessness, and it made him desperate. Something had to happen. But he could not speak.
Suddenly he bent forward, rapped on the window in back of the driver, and signalled frantically for him to stop.‘What do you want? Have you gone completely crazy?’ Johanne cried out in bewilderment.
The taxi slowed and then came to a stop. Jastrau already had the door open so that the breeze came whistling in. And then, with one lea, he was out on the edge of the sidewalk.At a loss to know what was going on, the driver turned on the likght inside the cab.
Jastrau’s lips were trembling. He wished that his rash act could be undone. He wanted to get back into the cab. But that triumphant silence must be conquered. He had to win this battle, and he would. A stupid conquest. What did the cab drver think? And ten he reached into his pocket, grabbed his keys, tossed them into the cab. Out with his wallet too, and into the cab with it. Inexplicable. A silent, violent scene. And Johanne sat there in the feeble light staring straight ahead like a person who was dying.Without a word, Jastrau turned his back on her and began walking out Vesterbrogade. The glow from the ar lights, the broad, glistening, car track, the shadowy figures on the street corners, white legs flashing, women, and up aboive the roofs the blue-black night sky and some stars; he sensed the street as an extension of his soul, as a confirmation that something conclusive had occurred as an extraordinary, incomprehensibly calming influence. Behind him, he head the taxi start and get under way. It must be it, because there was not another car on the street at the moment. He would not turn around, but must simply keep walking. Then the taxi could catch up with him, draw up alongside the curb, and stop. And then they could talk to each other. The taxi had to come.
But the sound of the engine bacme fainter and fainter, and finally he had to turn around an look.
What he saw was the rear end of the cab. The taillight like ared cat’s eye in the distance. It turned a corner down near Vesterbro’s square and disappeared.
Disappeared.” - marie



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