Tom Kristensen: "Havoc"

This is a novel about destruction and about going under, and it goes deeper than most other stories of this kind.

In the beginning of the story the main character, Ole Jastrau, is writing book reviews in Denmarks largest Newspaper, and is an important figure in the cultural life of Copenhagen in the end of the nineteentwenties. But life is not simple, the books that are to be reviewed are heaping on the floor where he sits trying to work "from home", the telephone rings all of the time, and he also is to look after his three years old son. On top of that, he is being visited by his old acquaintances Sanders and Steffensen who confronts him with his radical past.

Ole Jastrau is experiencing a deep inner split and is also rather thirsty. He starts drinking, and soon it goes fast downwards. His wife and child leaves him, and he is fired from his position in the newspaper. But this is far more than just a story about drinking oneself into the gutter. Early in the book we are presented with a poem written by his old student comrade Stefan Steffensen:

Asiatic in its hugeness is the anxiousness.
It has matured in unmature years.
Daily I feel it in my Heart,
As if continents daily perish.

But my anxiousness is loosening in a longing
and in visions of terror and suffering.
I have been longing for shipdisasters
and for havoc and suddenly death.

I have been longing for burning cities
and human crowds fleeing away,
towards breakings shattering the world,
and an earthquake called the punishment of God.

This sinister poem is the heart of this novel. One should remember, this is written only a coupple of years befor the nazis come to power in Germany. But even if this poem may seem sinisterly profetic, the novel is very versatile. This is not a novel about the war that is to come ten years later, it is first and last about going all the way to the bottom in Copenhagen. It has been called "a linguistic artist's strange declaration of love to a city". And Knut Hamsun declared that no other book had moved him so deeply.

Tom Kristensen was born in London in 1893, but grew up in Copenhagen. "Havoc" was published in 1930 and is his most famous novel. He died in 1974.