We, the Drowned by Carsten Jensen
|We, the Drowned by Carsten Jensen
|Category: Literary Fiction
|Reviewer: Robert James
|Summary: Epic novel of the sea starts in a small Danish town in 1848 and spans 97 years and much of the globe. An incredible achievement with a host of wonderful characters and some of the best writing of recent times.
|Date: April 2010
|Publisher: Harvill Secker
In 1848, Laurids Madsen and other men of the small town of Marstal go to war to fight the Germans and an explosion flings him up to heaven, as far as anyone can tell. But Laurids returns, claiming his sea-boots were too heavy for him to stay up there – only to be lost to Marstal anyway, as he abandons his family to sail the high seas.
Years later, Laurids’ son Albert sets sail to search for his missing father, and finds seedy company, premonitions of warfare, and a mysterious shrunken head. As he returns to Marstal, the town begins to change rapidly and a woman starts to dream of reclaiming the men from the sea.
Nearly a century after the book starts, Knud Eric, a small boy in Marstal who the elderly Albert befriends, grows up to become a sailor himself against his mother’s wishes. We see the Second World War through his eyes, as he becomes a man and, along with other Marstal natives, fights against the Nazis.
While it’s Laurids’ story which gets the book started, the main focus is on Albert and Knud. We follow Albert through nearly his entire life and watch Knud grow up. They’re two incredibly captivating characters, and the ghostly narration of much of the book by an unseen chorus, the ‘’we’’ of the title just adds to the novel’s ability to entrance you. The middle part is the exception to this narration, instead being told in the first person by Albert himself as he quests to find his father. This is just as well-written and breaks up the massive length of the novel well. The supporting cast – from Knud’s childhood friend Anton, the Terror of Marstal, to Klara, Knud’s strong-willed mother, to Herman the Seagull Killer, to Albert’s captain Jack Lewis with his strange cargo – are all just as memorable in their own way as the main pair.
The book is an epic in every sense, nearly as sprawling and far-reaching as the sea itself, and takes in many kinds of stories. It’s an adventure story, a romance, a coming-of-age story, a war tale, a drama, and a comedy. But more than any of those, it’s a book which begs to be savoured, with gorgeous writing. The last few pages are truly breathtaking writing which I’ve just reread several times, and the closing paragraphs made this the first literature for a long, long time which brought me close to tears with their beauty.
In summary, this is one of the highest recommendations I can give – certainly one of my top few books of the last decade – and despite its massive length is extremely hard to put down once you’re hooked by the story.
I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.
Further reading suggestion: The only literary fiction I’ve come across in the last ten years which is at a similar level of excellence to this book is the equally breathtaking The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. I wish I could recommend After the Fire, A Still Small Voice by Evie Wyld, but I didn't like it at all.
You can read more book reviews or buy We, the Drowned by Carsten Jensen at Amazon.co.uk Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
You can read more book reviews or buy We, the Drowned by Carsten Jensen at Amazon.com.
Like to comment on this review?
Just send us an email and we'll put the best up on the site.