Mirror, Shoulder, Signal by Dorthe Nors (translated by Misha Hoekstra, Man Booker International Prize 2017 long list)

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I shouldn’t be so intolerant of Sonja, a woman in her forties who just wants to learn to drive. Or, more specifically, to properly shift.

There was a time when I could drive a stick shift on any autobahn in Germany, but ever since having a small panic attack on 294 outside of Chicago a few years ago, I’ve been reluctant to go on any toll road whatsoever. So you’d think I’d be patient with this character’s weaknesses.

But, as I made my way through the book I just wanted to slap her.

She translates the fictional Swedish author Gösta Svensson’s crime novels, all the time wincing about the blood and semen descriptions, and nursing her aching wrists.

She complains about her driving instructor, Jytte, who seems boorish enough to make anyone nervous. But when Folke, the owner of the driving school, hears Sonja’s complaint and offers to teach her himself, she worries that he’ll attack her in the backseat.

She wears unpopular yellow clogs because the red are sold out. She has positional vertigo. She likes to sit in a field of rye. And, she doesn’t get along with her sister, Kate.

“In a lot of ways, thinks Sonja, Mom did me a disservice in believing I could just be myself. If I hadn’t been allowed to, then I’d be sitting right now with the whole package, but that train’s left the station. And if anyone does, Mom knows that you have to adapt if you’re going to entangle yourself in an intimate relationship. Kate knows that too. And Dad.” (p. 107)

Mirror, Shoulders, Signal is interesting enough in its own way, if you feel like reading a big long whine until you come to the last fifteen pages, but how it managed to be on the Man Booker International Prize long list surprises me.

Find more reviews at Messenger’s Booker, Winston’sDad’s Blog1st Reading’s Blog and Tony’s Reading List

Mirror, Shoulders, Signal by Dorthe Nors
Translated from the Danish by Misha Hoekstra
published by Pushkin Press
188 pages

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15 comments

    1. Maybe you could tolerate Sonja better than I; certainly the MBIP judges weren’t that annoyed! I guess my problem is that I can understand being frustrated with one or two areas of one’s life, but the whole thing? Maybe it isn’t life, but the way she’s not dealing with it, and frankly, I lost my patience.

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    1. Not me, either. The thing is, how did this book make the long list along side of other spectacular books? I don’t get it. I obviously didn’t see what the official judges saw.

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    1. I am glad to bring a laugh, when I feel half guilty for writing such a review. But, as long as I’m on the shadow jury I feel I have to say how the books on the long list strike me. The good part is there are so many readers, there’s bound to be something for everyone.

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    1. I will be glad for another woman’s perspective! Gary and Tony (Messenger) were quite sympathetic to Sonja; I thought they’d make excellent husbands! This is my next to least favorite, after The Explosion Chronicles, so far. But, I especially liked Tony’s clarification of an allegory which completely bypassed me: the mirror is what has happened in her life, the shoulder is what she’s going through in the present, the signal represents what faces her in the future. Nice insight, but still, I can’t warm up to the character.

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    1. Yes, I agree that parts of it were (at least intended to be) humorous. I found myself smiling in parts, at the situations we find ourselves in. But, I didn’t see Sonja as strong enough to overcome what troubles her, and to me, that is a necessary (and redemptive) quality. As I said above, you and Tony are so generous with this whining woman!

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