My first introduction to Malladi’s writing, The Copenhagen Affair tells the story of Sanya, who; following a nervous breakdown at work, moves with her husband Harry to Copenhagen while his company completes an acquisition there.
Sanya was always the perfect wife, but after a breakdown at her office, it’s her husband Harry’s turn to step up. His proposal? A temporary move to Copenhagen, Denmark’s capital city. He needs to be there to close a business deal and figures the change of scenery will do her good. Soon Sanya goes from hiding under her duvet to hiding in plain sight—a dark-skinned Indian American in a city of blondes.
Within Copenhagen’s glamorous high society, one man stands out—not only because of his intriguing scar but because he sees Sanya in a way Harry hasn’t for years. Anders Ravn owns the company Harry wants to acquire, and soon Sanya begins to fall for him. As allegations of white-collar crime arise, she learns of Harry’s infidelity, and having an affair with Anders seems ever more tempting. Surrounded by old money, smoked fish on dark breads, and way too many bicycles, Sanya slowly moves from breakdown to breakthrough, but where will she end up—and with whom?
Sanya divides her life into Old Sanya and New Sanya. A toxic combination of imposter syndrome and a desperate desire to please everyone has led to a breakdown on the floor of her office, or, as she calls it, an ‘implosion’. She is suffering from depression, unable to face the world outside of the covers. Her husband Harry suggests that the best thing for her would be a change of scenery – although, having painted it as a benefit for her, we get a view straight into his character as he speaks the words:
“Can you please not be selfish about this and see the bigger picture?”
In Copenhagen, Sanya is thrust into a world of the rich elite. One particular pillar of this society, Anders Ravn, is a catalyst for helping her pull through to the other side of her darkness – he ‘sees’ Sanya in a way she has never been seen by Harry, and understands her pain completely, having battled (and continuing to battle) demons of his own. Sanya is attracted to this man with a scar on his face, and, as she learns of her own husband’s infidelities, begins to consider an affair of her own.
A major theme of The Copenhagen Affair is depression and mental illness, which Malladi deals with in a considerate, measured way that often carries undercurrents of humour. We feel Sanya’s absolute suffocation in the face of the expectation of friends and family that she will always be happy, positive, and able to manage a house and raising a daughter and holding down a full time job too. It’s the eternal ‘you can have it all’ message that is propagated to women everywhere with little consideration of the extreme pressure this societal expectation generates. Her career is the one to suffer following the birth of their daughter, as she takes a side step and creates an environment in which Harry can thrive instead:
“It didn’t go unnoticed by Harry that Sanya’s career, which had started out with a lot of promise, stopped flourishing around the same time Sara was born. But wasn’t that what happened to women, he rationalised. And he made more money than Sanya, so he had to keep pushing.”
The depiction of Copenhagen and its high society of old and new money creates a strong sense of place throughout the book. The characters of this world are always more complicated than we expect at first glance – from an ex-model who tries to lure Harry into an affair, to Ravn’s American wife Mandy, and Ravn himself.
Harry, a thoroughly unlikeable character at the start of the book, gradually begins to see himself in a different light and understand the kind of person and husband he has been; and by the end of the book I almost even liked him.
Aside from the very end of the book, which seemed to me to become a little too farcical and unrealistic, I very much enjoyed The Copenhagen Affair, and I am now desperate to pay a visit!