Kirsten Hammann

Kirsten Hammann

Kirsten Hammann

Sara Galbiati
Kirsten Hammann: Georg-komplekset, Novel, Gyldendal, 2022. Nominated for the 2023 Nordic Council Literature Prize.

Meet George. You will recognise him, because he’s the expression of the radical individualism of the modern age. He is also the protagonist in Kirsten Hammann’s sharp and well-crafted novel, the disturbingly funny Georg-komplekset (“The Georg Complex”, not published in English).


Georg has always had a penchant for life’s pleasures, but now he finds himself in middle age, after a precipitous fall from the pinnacle of success. Georg is a writer, but he’s hit a brick wall. “Poor Georg, now he’s really finished. He’s become invisible.” 


Georg-komplekset is a novel about the foul-smelling winds of envy and about conscience; a novel that exposes the self-indulgence of modernity and the hangovers that follow when the desire to be seen and achieve social recognition is no longer fulfilled. But while the novel is a relentlessly satirical depiction of the contemporary world, it is also an exploration of the primal urge of mankind to have all the light of the world shining on you. A verse by the Danish hymn writer Thomas Kingo from the hymn Far verden, far vel (‘Begone world, farewell’) (1681) could thus stand as a motto for Hammann’s book: “What is all that/ That the world paints with fair form?/ Nothing but shadows and shiny trinkets/ Bubbles and rattling vessels/ Slush, dirt and regret/ Vanity, vanity!” Georg-komplekset is Kirsten Hammann’s talented, merciless take on how empty vanity masks a lack of depth in the year 2022.


And Hammann allows Georg to move out onto thin ice. Not only has Georg a case of writer’s block, but his wife has also started to write. And it looks like it might be a bestseller. That. Just. Mustn’t. Happen. As Georg weeps his tears of misery over his wife’s invasive writing potential, he ponders what he can do to regain his position in the hierarchy, and adopts a highly dubious and morally flawed strategy: His wife, or at least his wife’s manuscript, must be sacrificed so that his inner crisis can be overcome. Hammann shows us that the idea of sacrifice does not just belong to the biblical past – modern logic can look like that, too. To gain control of the situation, he counterattacks: He must write something spectacular, effective, a crime novel, one based on a real-life story of men’s violence towards women.


Kirsten Hammann takes a deeply critical look at the ethical complications left behind by our hunger for misogynistic depictions of reality. Just how far will we go to be entertained? Hammann puts us to the test. Is it enough with a perverted serial killer’s fetishisation of a severed foot he hides in a freezer? Yes, it works for Georg, it is a good idea, he thinks, to speculate in human tragedies; it will appeal to the audience. Passages from his true-crime story are interwoven into Kirsten Hammann’s portrayal of Georg, and, as Georg has just predicted, they make for effective, compelling and exciting reading. This is a devilishly creepy, sophisticated move by Hammann: first to unmask the authorial figure as an authenticity-body snatcher, and then to expose the reader as a mere lurking voyeur. Both of them equally cynical.


Hammann has a large and sparkling satirical talent. She holds us to what hurts, using humour not to sooth but to bite. She spares no one.


While she allows Georg to imitate genre literature in an attempt to be recognised, as herself, she exposes how our times so often confuse imitation with originality.


With Georg-komplekset she gives us the opportunity to ponder the forces at work within us, and in the society we have created. And she shows us that our striving for success, our human folly and the pursuit of the capital of fame, which Honoré de Balzac already depicted in the 19th century in his “Human Comedy”, still thrive in our modern Nordic age.