Review: ‘Mirror mirror shoulder’ by Dorthe Nors
In January 2018 the novel ‘Spiegel Spiegel shoulder’ by the Danish writer Dorthe Nors was published in the Dutch translation by Edith Koenders. Until then Van Nors had only published the collection of stories ‘Karateslag’ in Dutch. In ‘Spiegel mirror shoulder’ we meet the more than 40-year-old, insecure translator Sonja who is trying to get her driver’s license.
- Author: Dorthe Nors
- Title: Mirror mirror shoulder
- Publisher: Stage
- Year of publication: 2018
- Translator: Edith Koenders
- ISBN: 978-90-5759-858-6
Sonja has not come very far with her driving lessons. Her driving instructor, the coarse-mouthed Jytte who chatters about her own private life during the lessons, still switches for her and prefers to operate the pedals herself; Sonja can then just send it herself. Sonja does not dare to say that she is dissatisfied with Jytte and would rather be taught by someone else.
But anyone who expects a funny story about an endearingly clumsy woman struggling with modern life on the basis of this beginning is wrong. Sonja no longer has any illusions about herself and constantly observes and analyzes herself mercilessly.
The only one to whom she occasionally complains about her need (and for some time also the only one who touches her) is her masseuse Ellen, who has all kinds of woolly ideas, but the socially awkward Sonja does not dare to do everything against her either. say what’s on her mind. And if she ever starts talking to a stranger, she says all kinds of strange things that immediately put the other on the run. Her hopeless relationship with married Paul has been around for some time now. Only in the letters she regularly writes to her sister Kate is Sonja sincere – but she never sends those letters and has not had any real contact with Kate for years.
Sonja regularly dreams of her childhood in rural West Jutland a few decades ago, where she occasionally had moments of happiness when she secluded herself in places where she could be herself completely in solitude, away from her father who always corrected her and the dominant but conventional Kate. Only her mother saw the hidden talents in Sonja and encouraged her (as the first and only one of the family) to go to Copenhagen to study. She eventually became a translator there. She often translates books by a successful Swedish thriller writer.
In fact, Sonja is still that little shy girl from back then, who only feels comfortable when she is completely on her own, but as an adult of course also needs to be seen and known, by friends, but also by a loved one. She knows very well that she cannot go back to the idyllic landscape of her youth: it is no longer the same place and she herself has become a stranger there.
Between those two incompatible poles ?? the desire for contact and for distance and seclusion? Sonja constantly balances. Surly describes this balancing act, which Sonja actually sustained all her life but which takes her more and more effort, so beautifully that her tragedy is tangible. For example, she regularly hears from people that they like the books of the Swedish thriller writer so much, but no one ever asks for her own opinion about the writer or her translation work.
It is becoming increasingly clear how lonely and needy she is, which is all the more tragic and painful because, as mentioned, she has flawlessly understood herself and the tricks she has learned work less and less well. Is Sonja heading for a crisis and if so, will it leave her unsettled or will it be beneficial and purifying?
Surly paints a credible psychological portrait of a woman in need whose motto is to always be brave and keep going? until she drops. As a reader, you cannot help but love this haunted, but also original and witty woman. There is something universally recognizable about it: after all, we all try to navigate through the obstacles, enjoy the beautiful moments and keep things going as well as possible.
It is to the great credit of Nors that she does not get stuck in describing unintentionally funny and painful situations, but that she really makes the tragedy of Sonja’s life tangible, for example in the long scene where she takes a walk with the boss of the driving school and in the masterly closing chapter. You always feel the torment of Sonja’s doubt and uncertainty, the dead point she arrived at and the weight of the intimidating question ‘how to proceed’.