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