Mirror, Shoulder, Signal was written by Danish author Dorthe Nors and translated to English by Misha Hoesktra for Pushkin Press. It was shortlisted for the 2017 ManBooker International Prize and tells the story of Sonja, a forty-year-old woman living in Copenhagen, single and away from family. Sonja was born in the rural area of Jutland and fled to the capital in an attempt to make something of herself, be something else other than the typical narrative of girls who were born and grown up in the area and has never left its confines.
I finished it in two to three days. Granted, I had an off day from work where I did nothing but read, but it is also a short book. With its bright tones and very relatable topic to most readers, is this the summer read to take with you to the beach?
What it is not
This is not a book with a plot that will get the adrenaline running through your veins. There is no love story, no nerve-wracking suspense, no hard-hitting action. There is no witty dialogue, no snappy or snarky comebacks that make you smirk to yourself and mentally file it for future use.
Basically, if your brand of summer book is something like the Shopaholic series, I Am Pilgrim, or any of the bestselling YA right now, then no, this isn’t a book for you.
What does this book have?
When I say there’s no action, I meant physical kinesis. Sonja is a very internal person — her mind is active; it buzzes and whirs with thoughts about the people around her, thoughts about her family that she doesn’t see or hear from often, or reminiscing her childhood in Jutland. It suited me because I’m quite similar in that I spend my weekends reading or blogging (or doing social media), compared to, say, my husband, who gets antsy at inertia.
In connection to that, in my declaration of the book not having witty dialogue, it is because there is rarely dialogue. Sonja mostly has thoughts, running and racing from one topic to another, but there is no shortness of wit in the way the author and the translator expressed them. These thoughts sometimes seem nonlinear but they still end up connected somehow, as they drop nuggets of wisdom here and there.
Because the book is essentially seeing the world through Sonja’s eyes, even though it is told in the third person, I had the impression of a person who appears to dearly desire to be still but fighting to keep her head above the water, to catch up with the world and all the other people and the changes happening. Sonja lives in the capital city of Denmark; I have not been to Copenhagen, but I assume it is not very dissimilar to most capital cities — fast and ever-changing, and one would sometimes wish things will slow down, be still, have the time to collect one’s self.
I found Mirror, Shoulder, Signal to be a thinking book. It makes you ponder, to chew thoughts and ideas. I read it while I was trying to stay on top of my anxiety and low mood, and Sonja, who seemed like an anxious person and who was also “just a bit lonely”, resonated with me.
Book Review: Mirror, Shoulder, Signal by Dorthe Nors #TranslatedFiction Share on Twitter
Why you should/shouldn’t read it
Mirror, Shoulder, Signal, as previously mentioned, was originally written in Danish, and I wish I could find out for myself how masterful it must be in its original language because the English translation is beautiful. The words are simple; you don’t see a lot of “big” words, but it floats along gently, caressing my mind softly as I silently read through it. It makes statements that create a twinge in your heart and mind. It expresses thoughts — similar ones that you may have had running through your head — that you wish you could have articulated in that same succinct but poetic way.
However, you do need to be in the right mood and frame of mind to appreciate this book. I can see how someone else can find it boring — if you tend to read mostly plot-driven books and prefer it that way, then avoid this. It will not be a good fit for you and will most likely disappoint. But if you are open to something new, or if you’re a bit older, an old soul, or have the ability to empathise, then this book might just surprise you.
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“Language is powerful, almost magic, and the smallest alteration can elevate a sentence or be its undoing.”
– Dorthe Nors, Mirror Shoulder Signal
Let’s have a chat!
Do you read translated works? What are your favourites? Do you think this book is something that you’d pick up and read?