Shortlisted for the 2017 Man Booker International Prize
Translated from Danish by Misha Hoekstra
As a veteran of the hapless driving lesson (I almost put the car in a ditch within 5 minutes of sitting behind the wheel for the first time, then drove my driving instructor to bang his head against a brick wall – of his own volition – 10 minutes before my driving test, passed first time incidentally!), I was looking forward to the misadventures of Dorthe Nors’s heroine. Could they possibly live up to mine?
Well, yes, but in an entirely different way. Sonja’s technical battles with the motor car are not helped by a driving instructor, who wants only to talk about herself whilst driving the car by proxy. The mysteries of the gear box are solved only when Sonja – after much soul-searching – requests a change of instructor, but Folke brings with him a whole new set of issues ….
The shifting of gears is, of course, a metaphor for Sonja’s life. Now 40, she has been living in Copenhagen for 20 years, but it has yet to become home. She’s a fish out of water, really, unable to adapt like her friend, Molly, who has become quite the city girl. A shy, introverted soul, struggling to cope with the brash people surrounding her, establish new friendships, and to reconcile with her estranged sister, Kate, it comes as a surprise that Sonja fills her days translating the violent crime novels of the fictional Swedish author, Gösta Svensson. The content of these is such a dizzying contrast to the Sonja’s inner narrative, it’s small wonder she is afflicted with positional vertigo.
She needs a moment of illumination. Which, because this is a gentle, comical novel about contemporary loneliness, must arrive in a gentle, comical way to be fitting. It is a moment so well judged, it will become one of my favourites of the reading year. All I’m saying is that it involves a traffic light!
Mirror, Shoulder, Signal is easy reading. I suspect the enjoyment factor will be determined by the reader’s reaction to Sonja. I was initially exasperated by her passivity, but found myself empathising more than I expected towards the end. She’s a poor, wee soul, needing to find her way home. I’m glad that Nors made it possible.
This post is stage 9 of my Reading Around the World and Back Again With Pushkin Press project.
Next stop: USA