Book review: So Much For That Winter, by Dorthe Nors

20 08 2018

Dorthe Nors is a critically-acclaimed Danish writer whose most recent novel Mirror, Shoulder, Signal was nominated for the 2017 Man Booker International Prize. I’ve previously reviewed Mirror, Shoulder, Signal and Nors’ short fiction collection Karate Chop.

SoMuchForThatWinter

So Much For That Winter (2016, translated by Misha Hoekstra) collects Nors’ novellas Days (Dage, 2010) and Minna Needs Rehearsal Space (Minna mangler et øvelokale, 2013). Though the novellas aren’t thematically connected, they share an unconventionality of structure.

Minna Needs Rehearsal Space, told in a staccato sequence of short, simple, single-sentence paragraphs, portrays the midlife crisis of an avant-garde composer and musician, Minna, who has just been dumped by her self-centred lover, journalist/critic Lars. The simplicity of structure, handily illustrated by the novella’s first four paragraphs,

Minna introduces herself.
Minna is on Facebook.
Minna isn’t a day over forty.
Minna is a composer.

comes across at first like an early childhood reader, but Nors’ wry phrasing and often-subversive observations soon dispel this perception. Minna, riddled by insecurity and struggling with envy of the ostensibly more successful women around her—old schoolfriends, her insufferably controlling sister Elisabeth, and Linda, the glamorous young musician who has effectively stolen Lars from her—becomes progressively more disillusioned with her life, and decides she needs to take drastic measures, even if (Minna being Minna) these measures are mostly quiet, cautious, and somewhat furtive…

Days is structured as a sequence of lists, with each numbered item on each list an observation made by the (unnamed) protagonist who, like Minna, is living through the aftermath of a sundered relationship and who, like Minna, is finding it difficult to find or to hold to meaning in her world. It’s a work that seems at once more straightforwardly personal and more oblique than Minna, lacking as it does both the sense of artifice that comes with plot and the sense of distance conferred by characterisation. (It’s notable that, where Minna features a half-dozen supporting characters that recur throughout the story, Days is an almost purely solo effort.) Days is, for this reason, a less immediately infectious work than Minna; and, though Nors’ sense of humour is still apparent in various of the listed items, it’s not given such free play in Days. I have a suspicion that those drawn towards poetry will find more to appreciate in Days, with its abundance of metaphor and evocative imagery, than in the deliciously direct Minna; while I can see the charm in both works, it’s for Minna, I think, that I’m likely to return to this book for a re-read.

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