Books

Drive, She Said: Dorthe Nors' 'Mirror, Shoulder, Signal'

Nors provides an informative and careful sort of journalism here that captures the thought patterns of humans in the throes of anxiety and self-pity.

Mirror, Shoulder, Signal
Dorthe Nors

Graywolf Press

Jun 2018

Other


Mirror, Shoulder, Signal, Dorthe Nors' meditation on the lives of women caught between youth and middle-age, is what an Anne Rivers Siddons novel might read like if it had originally been written in Danish. One of Denmark's most lauded authors currently writing today, Nors' work usually explores the lives of middle class women who are upended by some emotional hiccup that leaves them in a state of existential wonder. In her latest novel, it's a dissolved relationship, which has her protagonist, the 30-something Sonja, running in all directions – learning to drive, trying to make new friends and reconnecting with her estranged sister.

Mirror, Shoulder, Signal is essentially the narrative of a women refusing to accept that youth is no longer on her side and the ordeal of having to readjust once her dependable comforts are no longer comforts (namely, her secure job as a translator of popular crime novels and a steady relationship). Nors charts Sonja's progress with a meticulous hand, detailing the heroine's exploits with studied resolve. But the narrative meanders aimlessly. Nothing in Nors' novel ever feels as though it's moving along a steady trajectory of human experience. Rather, the novel seems more a series of joint recollections that don't always connect thematically.

Sonja is a pleasant enough character but her problems seem trivial at best, her challenges no more than the inability to drive a stick-shift or pen her sister a simple letter. In real life, these issues are minor nuisances discussed over coffee. In Nors' book, they are deeply wounding traumas of herculean proportions. Frustratingly, Nors' doesn't have Sonja do much other than bite her tongue in tense situations or dodge people she doesn't like very much (including her first driving instructor, a raging, blathering lunatic and her well-meaning but probing massage therapist).

The conversations, thus, become a vacuous pool of angst-ridden musings. While engaged in a discussion with her massage therapist of her inability to talk to her sister or drive a car, Sonja stares at a hole in the floorboard and we are transported to a memory of her staring at holes in the floorboards of her childhood home. It's supposed to signify Sonja's incapacity to let go of her adolescent fears, but it feels like a meaningless aside in the idle talk.

Indeed, many moments throughout the novel are filled with such circular and wearisome ruminations. It's tedious and stilts any momentum that is achieved when any form of action takes place. At some point early on in the book, Sonja is taking a driving lesson with her driving instructor Jyte, who loses it on the road when Sonja has trouble manoeuvring her car through traffic. It seems to foreshadow the issues that will be revealed regarding Sonja's sister. The sense of mounting tension that builds over the next couple of chapters concerning her wrangles with Jyte is extinguished, however, when Sonja opts to switch driving instructors. Every sidestepping of a problematic area in Sonja's life upends a tension of conflict and we are left with nothing but her ingratiating self-pity.

It's almost certain that Nors is a fine writer who knows how to turn wonderfully sculpted prose; her way with descriptors and metaphor suggest it. But perhaps the translation from the Danish into English renders the text, at times, a little awkward. A number of sentences seem to carry two stray thoughts at once, perhaps the result of the translated diction. This makes it a little difficult to work out some of the inner dialogue; Sonja's cogitations are tangents that often end nowhere after pages of emotional outpour.

Mirror, Shoulder, Signal is, in fact, a series of glimpses of the life of a woman who ponders laboriously over her next steps. Nors provides an informative and careful sort of journalism here that captures the thought patterns of humans in the throes of anxiety. But the narrative is almost always detached and, though affably related, rather cold.

Nors has had a good amount of success with her previous books, Karate Chop (Graywolf, 2014) a collection of short stories and So Much for That WinterThat Winter (Graywold, 2016) which combines two of her novellas. Judging from her ability to harness the smaller, almost undetected, disturbances of human emotion in just a passage – no small feat, to be sure – perhaps her strengths are far better suited to the form of the short story and novella, where such reflections needn't be stretched at novel's length.

Mirror, Shoulder, Signal was a finalist for the Man Booker Prize in 2017. Clearly, Nors' talents for outlining the rarely observed pathos that do indeed exist in the most minute moments of life's chaos was not overlooked by the Booker advisory committee. It's a shame, then, that Nors didn't manage to coordinate all the emotional directives into a satisfying and cohesive arc here. A book of impressions, then.

5


Music


Books


Film


Television


Recent
Books

A Fresh Look at Free Will and Determinism in Terry Gilliam's '12 Monkeys'

Susanne Kord gets to the heart of the philosophical issues in Terry Gilliam's 1995 time-travel dystopia, 12 Monkeys.

Music

The Devonns' Debut Is a Love Letter to Chicago Soul

Chicago's the Devonns pay tribute the soul heritage of their city with enough personality to not sound just like a replica.

Music

Jaye Jayle's 'Prisyn' Is a Dark Ride Into Electric Night

Jaye Jayle salvage the best materials from Iggy Pop and David Bowie's Berlin-era on Prisyn to construct a powerful and impressive engine all their own.

Music

Kathleen Edwards Finds 'Total Freedom'

Kathleen Edwards is back making music after a five-year break, and it was worth the wait. The songs on Total Freedom are lyrically delightful and melodically charming.

Television

HBO's 'Lovecraft Country' Is Heady, Poetic, and Mangled

Laying the everyday experience of Black life in 1950s America against Cthulhuian nightmares, Misha Green and Jordan Peele's Lovecraft Country suggests intriguing parallels that are often lost in its narrative dead-ends.

Music

Jaga Jazzist's 'Pyramid' Is an Earthy, Complex, Jazz-Fusion Throwback

On their first album in five years, Norway's Jaga Jazzist create a smooth but intricate pastiche of styles with Pyramid.

Music

Finding the Light: An Interview with Kathy Sledge

With a timeless voice that's made her the "Queen of Club Quarantine", Grammy-nominated vocalist Kathy Sledge opens up her "Family Room" and delivers new grooves with Horse Meat Disco.

Books

'Bigger Than History: Why Archaeology Matters'

On everything from climate change to gender identity, archaeologists offer vital insight into contemporary issues.

Film

'Avengers: Endgame' Culminates 2010's Pop Culture Phenomenon

Avengers: Endgame features all the expected trappings of a superhero blockbuster alongside surprisingly rich character resolutions to become the most crowd-pleasing finalés to a long-running pop culture series ever made.

Music

Max Richter's 'VOICES' Is an Awe-Inspiring and Heartfelt Soundscape

Choral singing, piano, synths, and an "upside-down" orchestra complement crowd-sourced voices from across the globe on Max Richter's VOICES. It rewards deep listening, and acts as a global rebuke against bigotry, extremism and authoritarianism.

Music

DYLYN Dares to "Find Myself" by Facing Fears and Life's Dark Forces (premiere + interview)

Shifting gears from aspiring electropop princess to rock 'n' rule dream queen, Toronto's DYLYN is re-examining her life while searching for truth with a new song and a very scary-good music video.

Music

JOBS Make Bizarre and Exhilarating Noise with 'endless birthdays'

Brooklyn experimental quartet JOBS don't have a conventional musical bone in their body, resulting in a thrilling, typically off-kilter new album, endless birthdays.

Music

​Nnamdï' Creates a Lively Home for Himself in His Mind on 'BRAT'

Nnamdï's BRAT is a labyrinth detailing the insular journey of a young, eclectic DIY artist who takes on the weighty responsibility of reaching a point where he can do what he loves for a living.

Music

Monte Warden and the Dangerous Few Play It Cool​

Austin's Monte Warden and the Dangerous Few perform sophisticatedly unsophisticated jazz/Americana that's perfect for these times

Music

Eleanor Underhill Takes Us to the 'Land of the Living' (album stream)

Eleanor Underhill's Land of the Living is a diverse album drawing on folk, pop, R&B, and Americana. It's an emotionally powerful collection that inspires repeated listens.

Music

How Hawkwind's First Voyage Helped Spearhead Space Rock 50 Years Ago

Hawkwind's 1970 debut opened the door to rock's collective sonic possibilities, something that connected them tenuously to punk, dance, metal, and noise.

Books

Graphic Novel 'Cuisine Chinoise' Is a Feast for the Eyes and the Mind

Lush art and dark, cryptic fables permeate Zao Dao's stunning graphic novel, Cuisine Chinoise.

Music

Alanis Morissette's 'Such Pretty Forks in the Road' Is a Quest for Validation

Alanis Morissette's Such Pretty Forks in the Road is an exposition of dolorous truths, revelatory in its unmasking of imperfection.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.