Mirror, Shoulder, Signal

Sonja is a lonely woman in her forties who has reached a point in her life where something simply has to change. But there’s much to be done, so where to start? By taking her driver’s license, of course. How difficult can it be?

Very, it turns out. Six months in, Sonja still does not know how to shift gears. While she steers the wheel, her driving instructor Jytte handles the gearstick under constant cussing and erratic orders. Orders that Sonja tries to repeat like a mantra: look in the mirror, then over your shoulder, and then signal. Mirror, shoulder, signal. Mirror, shoulder, signal.

Struggling with an obscure medical condition, a sister who won’t talk to her, a masseuse who’s determined to solve her so-called spiritual problems, and a driving instructor who’s raving mad, Sonja is certain she’ll never learn how to shift from second to third gear and finally turn her life in a new direction.

Mirror, Shoulder, Signal is a hilarious, absurd, and touching novel that balances between hope and despair, love and heartbreak. In this precise and wholly original tale about the nature of loneliness, Nors’ characteristic dark humor and razor sharp language is combined with an existential depth that leaves the reader both laughing and wincing. Ultimately, Mirror, Shoulder, Signal is a story about longing. A longing to feel a sense of purpose. And to find a home somewhere, with someone.

In April 2017, Mirror, Shoulder, Signal was shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize. The winner of the 2017 prize will be announced on June 14th.

Mirror, Shoulder, Signal is a brilliant novel about finding your own way in life, even if others would like to steer you. […] What you also must admire with this small and perfectly constructed novel is Dorthe Nors’ way of putting Sonja into a context that so clearly reflects her, yet at the same time does in a way that does not seem overbearing. […] Good literature is often about the unremarkable, the ordinary, and Dorthe Nors’s grasp of the story is masterful. […] Mirror, Shoulder, Signal emphasizes the author’s calibre. New readers of Nors can safely begin here. Perhaps they’ll then turn to the rest of her work. They won’t regret it.”
Berlingske, six stars (DK)

Dorthe Nors’s novel is a magnificent exploration of anxiety. Mirror, Shoulder, Signal introduces a writer who is both funny and brave. […] Nors, in contrast, turns her gridlocked human traffic into a transport of delight.
The Economist (UK)

“Nors is at her most trenchant and emphatic when her protagonist, riddled with superstition and uncertainty, is inwardly soliloquising. […] When Sonja’s narrative breaks free of the corner she has boxed herself into, the prose swoops and soars like her yearned-for whooper swans. It’s at these moments that Nors reinvention of experimental fiction is so marvellous: the remainder of her backlist should not disappoint.”
The Guardian (UK)

Mirror, Shoulder, Signal has just been published in Britain and will raise Nors’ profile further. […] Nors writing has witty and insightful depth. […] Nors writes important modern women’s fiction. It is an act of 21st century recovery and assertion: she gives back agency and centrality to older women, sidelined in all societies, even Scandinavian ones, where women are valued less than men, and childless, single women least of all.”
Financial Times (UK)

“The experience in reading about Sonja’s heroic struggle to get out of a crummy rut is very moving. Perhaps because Nors’ watchful eye, as well as often seeing the humour in regular situations, creates characters so believable in their small, everyday battles that we can’t help but care. Even more important, though, is the tenderness of her writing; the feeling she is giving much of herself away, wincing with Sonja’s everyday slight, warming with every moment of unexpected affection. It’s from that generous spirit of self-sacrifice that this novel gets its heart.”
THE BIG ISSUE (UK)

“An insightful and compassionate novel.”
The Herald (UK)

“This truly is excellent and original. […] What’s so special about Dorthe Nors, as with most skilled writers, is her style. […] Dorthe Nors’ writing is dexterous and playful, she loads and reloads with darkness and humor, and she never settles. It seems simple, as though she’s writing about what’s right before her, but then there’s that Danish nerve – the one that’s so difficult to put your finger on and that is rarely as pleasant as it seems.”
Dagens Nyheter (SE)

“Dorthe Nors has written the little, great Danish novel. […] Her new novel is quite simply excellent. […] Dorthe Nors tells a big story through a small story. […] You feel the urge to quote and quote and quote, but a review must also have an end.”
Kristeligt Dagblad, six stars (DK)

“Here’s Nors’ fifth novel, Mirror, Shoulder, Signal, and let me tell you right away: Nors is here to stay. […] Dorthe Nors reminds me of why I read books: to meet people like Sonja. With quiet, sharp humor and immense tenderness, Nors is able portray whole characters for her readers. Both the quirky personalities and the lively language give a unique authenticity and intense presence to the novel. […] Dorthe Nors’ new novel isn’t just good – it is also important.”
Nordjyske Stiftstidene, six stars (DK)

“This novel reads like a sort of Danish Woody Allen; existential, domestic, gently humorous. […] On the one hand, this poetic, thoughtful book is an affectionate send-up of the modern Nordic mindset. But in a deeper way it’s a love letter to a vanished land, that of childhood.”
THE DAILY MAIL (UK)

“The novel Mirror, Shoulder, Signal is nothing short of brilliant. […] In just a few pages, it is clear that Dorthe Nors has found her style and her voice. […] In a single rich phrase, she can say what others needs half a page for. There’s not a single superflous word in the barely 200 pages. […] You know when you read a book and you just want to read a sentence out loud to the husband, the wife, the partner or the dog, because it’s such good writing? That’s how it is constantly with Mirror, Shoulder, Signal. There are hundreds of them […] The biggest problem with Mirror, Shoulder, Signal comes when you’ve finished the last page. Because you’re not done with Sonja and her wresteling with her driving instructor, her masseuse, and disloyal friends. So now I just want to sit in a corner and wait for ‘Sonja Buys a Summer Cottage’ to come out – followed by ‘Sonja Goes to New York’. Sonja is a gold mine, and I think there will be a demand for more of Sonja. Dorthe Nors had her breakthrough abroad long ago – Mirror, Shoulder, Signal ought to guarantee the author a well-deserved breaktrough in Denmark.”
Herning Folkeblad, six stars (DK)

“Dorthe Nors fully lives up to the high expectations with a novel that encapsulates time. […] Dorthe Nors portrays Sonja’s world in a loving and humorous way; not least the male reader might find themselves wiser for it.”
Jyllandsposten, five stars (DK)

Mirror, Shoulder, Signal is the first book by Dorthe Nors that I’ve read. Now I want to read everything she’s written. It’s such a joy being in the safe hands of an author who can write, who’s understated and humorous without stealing past all that is painful. […]  I cannot get enough of it, especially when so well written as by Dorthe Nors.”
Weekendavisen (DK)

“You can’t be in a rush when reading Nors. It’s a slender novel bursting with substance and sharp turns. What’s beautiful about it is that you haven’t got a clue of where you’re going, and yet you’re wholly enjoying the ride.”
Vi Läser (SE)

“An insightful and compassionate novel.”
The Herald (UK)

“It’s awkward, humorous, deeply psychological, often with recollections from Sonja’s childhood, and original in the same way. Moreover, it’s just as bristling with seemingly simple sentences that capture so much of life. […] Mirror, Shoulder, Signal is a striking and – sometimes boundlessly – sad story.”
Svenska Dagbladet (SE)

“This novel about Sonja that Dorthe Nors has written is an altogether brilliantly melancholy and humorous portrayal of a person longing to let go, and to love. […] I have never read a novel like this before. It’s as though, while portraying this ’not so finely tuned woman’ so incredibly well, it also takes a shot at the publishing industry of today, that often tricks you into believing a novel either has to be suspense or an autobiography or, for audiobooks, to be carried by clever dramaturgy and a thrilling story. Sonja is not thrilling. She is a gray mouse. She has a story that I’ve seldom heard. […] Mirror, Shoulder, Signal is an exquisite little novel, that feels bigger than most and that makes my heart beat. Ninni Holmqvist has translated it in a perfect tone. Thank you for this reading experience!”
Upsala Nya Tidning (SE)

Ninni Holmqvist has exquisitely translated Dorthe Nors’ funny and beautiful novel about alienation and finding a home within yourself. It’s so easy to both recognize yourself and to feel for Sonja’s struggle that I, both during and after reading, tear up from giggling as well as from the solemn sensation of how peculiar life actually is. Or how singular this novel is and how rich I feel from having read it.”
Borås Tidning (SE)

“Dorthe Nors writes sparsely yet at the same time poignantly and hilariously, finds the words that captures the details, the situations, the relationships sometimes with a dizzying twist, sometimes with a social-realistic accuracy of aim. She writes of a life that has turned askew, not completely to blazes, not straight into the ditch, not at all, but askew. […] There’s an abysmal sorrow in Sonja. A clawing yearning after a future that has the appearance of a life. Once she had her fortune told but she can’t remember what the fortune-teller foresaw for her. Sonja searches for that promise of – something. And Dorthe Nors puts her finger precisely on that point zero where the pain of humanity is accumulated. That place no words can reach.”
Kulturnytt, Sveriges Radio (SE)

Mirror, Shoulder, Signal unfolds – almost reluctantly – into a tragic swan song over an empty life, an unusually tender and immersive portrayal that increasingly twists into something raw, strange and scornful. With incredible skill, Dorthe Nors turns the novel into a clear-eyed and intimate portrayal of a sharp cry of desperation.”
Gefle Dagblad (SE)

“The novel opens in quite a humorous way and initially you expect it to be a fun story about breaking free. But far from it. Mirror, Shoulder, Signal portrays a rarely seen candour about loneliness. […] Mirror, Shoulder, Signal is a relentless novel, yet it’s delightfully free from sentimentality. Dorthe Nors succeeds in writing a tender tale about a lonely woman at a point in her life when she’s no longer young, but not yet old. […] Nors portrays Sonja with a subdued style and literary perfection that makes reading it a subtle pleasure. Her language is clear and unyielding, yet so emphatic that the reader immediately gets caught up in Sonja’s emotional world.”
Literatur Zeitschrift (DE)

“Dorthe Nors bravely steers the reader towards the great theme of our time: being single and alone. Again and again, Nors shows us that life in modern Denmark – where there’s neither faith nor family to cling to – is empty. […] Sonja and many other people in Copenhagen, and on this earth, have a need to know that there is someone out there if you need them. The novel revolves around the ‘back of the heart’: the place on the back where wings would grow on an angel. Back there sits the desire to meet a friend with a common past or geography, who has time to catch you if you fall. It’s precise and gripping and thought-provoking to bring up in a small, cheeky novel, and it makes for great literature. For 160 Danish kroner you can’t even get a big bouquet of flowers, so buy this novel as a hostess gift for the rest of 2016.”
Københavneravisen (DK)

“The writers that radiate the kind of talent that Dorthe Nors does are few and far between. Her latest novel Mirror, Shoulder, Signal is a small masterpiece. A story from everyday Denmark. A story about a person we all know. About a person we’ve all met. But we haven’t been aware of it. Because most people are much more than what they immediately reveal. So is Sonja, the main character in Nors’ novel. […] It’s rare in modern Danish literature to see such an authentic, deeply gripping portrayal of a person like the one Nors delivers here, and you can’t read this book without contemplating your own actions and feel your bad conscience come knocking. How many Sonjas have you overlooked on a busy day? How many lonely people would’ve benefitted from a remark, a smile, a tiny bit of interest? This world is full of silent characters moving through life. With her eminent writing, Dorthe Nors has made one of these silent characters blatantly relevant. […] Dorthe Nors now moves to the frontline of young Danish authors.”
Folkebladet, five stars (DK)

As always with Dorthe Nors’ writing, the craftsmanshift is resoundingly good. There’s a lot of understated Jutland humor, and many funny formulations that make the depth of the story more prominent. One single offbeat wording says so much more than many passages of profound words. As a reader, I sense the focus in both the story and in every single phrase. It’s something only a skilled craftsman can do.”
Bokrummet, five stars (DK)

Nors is simply brilliant in her milieu descriptions. Such a great and heartfelt voice. For Sonja is a human being, who shakes and longs. And when kinswoman Martha holds her neck steadily with liberating midwife hands, Sonja is seized by the back of her heart. So is the reader.”
Ekstra Bladet, five stars (DK)

“A small, big novel full of poetry and charm.”
Style (DE)

“A book so small and inconspicuous it would be easy to disregard it, much like its protagonist. But that would be a mistake, since Sonja’s tale is humorous, moving, and full of stylistic beauty. If you ever want to read something that stands out from the noisy crowd: Mirror, Shoulder, Signal by Dorthe Nors is a small treasure.”
Herzpotential, 5/5 (DE)

Dorthe Nors is one of the most original voices of contemporary Danish letters. She has written a lauded short story collection, Karate Chop, as well as one novella and five novels, including the most recent: Mirror, Shoulder, Signal (2016), which has been shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize 2017.

Learn more about Dorthe Nors