Sonja’s somewhat of a hopeless character in Dorthe Nors’ award nominee, Mirror, Shoulder, Signal, one that does not take charge of her life. This literary, somewhat allegorical tale of a forty-something who is trying to find direction in life, seems to go to frustrating plains for the reader, as they witness her displacement, not quite reaching any degree of potential, lost and misguided in the urban surroundings of Copenhagen.
With a disparaging distaste for men, and yet an awkward relationship with her sister, Sonja is an intriguing, lonely and subordinate character, who leaves the dramatic landscapes of her childhood for the ambitious drive of the city and yet, this alienation is something she is clearly not comfortable with. At the same time, as the reader you cannot envisage her as anything but solitary, as she clutches at relationships throughout this novel, with Folke, with Kate, and her oldest friend Molly.
Though rather unsatisfying as a story and at times, the translation a little clunky and Americanised, the clever aspect of this book is the allegory that resides within the synopsis, as hinted at by the title. “Mirror” provides the opportunity to get a real look at oneself, whilst “shoulder” allows her to recall her roots and where she stems from; and then “signal” which is the call to action in order to make the changes that are required. And Sonja clearly needs them.
Dorthe Nors, is the first Danish author to be published in the American magazine The New Yorker. Born in 1970 and, having studied literature and art history at the University of Aarhus, she has gone on to have had three novels published. Karate Chop is her collection of short stories, and was published in 2008 and Minna Needs Rehearsal Space was published in 2013. Having wide acclaim, she lives in rural Jutland, Denmark, which is a large peninsula that contains large regions of Denmark and some of the most beautiful nature in the country. Her most recent novel, Mirror, Shoulder, Signal, which was translated by Misha Hoekstra, has been shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize 2017.
Melancholic but awkwardly this novel reveals an inward-thinking recluse, who lives her life through fantasy and day-dream, clearly a character that has drifted off her path to success. Nors reveals this loneliness through clear, present-tense sentences, and is classically Scandi-minimalist. The ending, completely unexpected, does not really fit with the rest of the novel, but that does not retract about the statement this makes about the contemporary world and loneliness. Should the translation have been a tad better, there is a poignant message here about the loneliness that can easily arise from existing in this technological world.
Mirror, Shoulder, Signal was published by Pushkin Press on 23rd February 2017.