Review of Dorthe Nors’ ‘Middle, Shoulder, Signal’

“A spiritually Scandi perspective on life’

Living in Copenhagen, Sonja is in her forties and is trying to move in the right direction in life.  She is learning to drive, she has joined a meditation group and she is attempting to improve the relationship between herself and her sister, Kate.  However, her endeavours appear to be in vain; her driving instructor won’t let her change gears independently, she’d rather eat cake and drink coffee in a café than meditate, and her sister won’t speak to her on the phone.  As Sonja reflects on her childhood and life since then, she begins to realise that she is stuck and lost with very little hope of moving forward.  So how can she find a way to find herself again when no one else around her is willing to help?

This was a peculiar read for me as the subject matter is a little different to what I normally read.  The flashbacks also made the book difficult to follow at times as I was sometimes more focused on working out a timeline than the content of the book.

Having said that, the novel was intriguing because Nors’ heroine really seeks to progress in life but cannot seem to do so easily.  I think this accurately reflects life in general because it is never straightforward or easy in whatever way we try to succeed.  Sonja is a funny character in the things she says to others and her actions, like when she runs away from the meditation group to a café and ends up eating cake and drinking coffee, (but let’s be honest: wouldn’t we all choose to do what Sonja does instead of meditating in the woods?).  However, beneath her amusing and determined exterior, you really get a sense of Sonja’s loneliness and readers subsequently sympathise with her.

Sonja’s sister Kate seemed to be very cruel in refusing to speak to Sonja herself or making an excuse not to talk to her.  I would have liked to find out more about their relationship and the reasons why they do not get on, but perhaps their strained relation is because they are very different from one another.

Nors’ use of massage and driving as metaphors for life were really clever because they encourage you to think about your own life and experiences.  Sonja’s body is full of tension which is caused by her underlying feelings of loneliness and unhappiness in life. Similarly, the driving lessons intelligently mirror the struggles of life; Sonja cannot gain her licence because something is holding her back, namely the same reasons for her tense body.  As bizarre as it sounds, the massage and driving link together in a spiritual way because if Sonja was happy in life, she would be more relaxed and able to succeed at driving.

As bleak as Sonja’s life may seem, the conclusion does offer a hopeful light in Sonja’s life as she meets someone who finally understands her sense of being lost in life.  Whilst Nors leaves her novel open-ended, I think it is very fitting because you get the sense that everything will work out for Sonja because she has met someone with whom she has a genuine and deep connection.  And maybe that is a message we can take from this book: everything will be alright as long as we have people around us who love and understand us.

Overall, Mirror, Shoulder, Signal offers a spiritually Scandi perspective on life that makes you reflect not only on your own life and experiences, but life in general. Yes, it is difficult, complicated and downright rubbish at times.  But there is always a glimmer of hope when we are surrounded by the right people.

Rating:4/5

Mirror, Shoulder, Signal by Dorthe Nors is available to purchase on Kindle now and will be available in paperback 31stMay.

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