Focus on Mirror, Shoulder, Signal - Man Booker International Prize 2017

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The Man Booker International Prize celebrates the finest works of translated fiction from around the world. The prize is awarded every year for a single book, which is translated into English and published in the UK. Both novels and short-story collections are eligible, and the writer and translator are rewarded equally for their contribution.

The full shortlist of six titles can be found here, but in this series of articles we will look at each title in detail.

Mirror, Shoulder, Signal

Sonja is an intelligent single woman in her 40s whose life lacks focus. The situation must change – but where to start? By learning to drive, perhaps. After all, how hard can it be? Very, as it turns out.

Six months in, Sonja is still baffled by the basics and her instructor is eccentric. Sonja is also struggling with an acute case of vertigo, a sister who won’t talk to her, and a masseuse who is determined to solve her spiritual problems. Frenetic city life is a constant reminder that every man (and woman) is an island: she misses her rural childhood where ceilings were high and the sky was endless. Shifting gears is not proving easy.

Get involved

Have you read Mirror, Shoulder, Signal? Do you want to know what other readers thought? You can leave a review, read a review or add the book to your group’s reading list.

Want to know more? Download a Readers’ Guide for Mirror, Shoulder, Signal, including information about the author and translator, as well as some discussion notes and themed reading.

Want ideas on what to read next? We’ve created a supporting booklist with suggestions of other books that you might like to try if you enjoyed Mirror, Shoulder, Signal, including books with similar quirky characters.

A word from Houghton Reading Group

Houghton Reading Group are one of the brilliant reading groups shadowing the prize this year, and have been reading Mirror, Shoulder, Signal.

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“Shadowing the Man Booker International Prize has been an interesting experience for our group. We thought it would be good to try something a little different and a translation on the shortlist for this particular prize was a tempting offer.

We were sent Mirror Shoulder Signal by Dorthe Nors translated from the original Danish by Misha Hoekstra. The jacket notes predicted a funny poignant tale of middle age, immediately we thought it may be similar to The Portable Veblen by Elizabeth Mackenzie we read as a group last year.

The consensus across the group is that there are charming parts of this book, but it loses its way in the middle and becomes quite slow and difficult to stick with. Whether this is because something is lost in the translation or not we aren’t sure. Several members agreed there were a few odd sentences that could potentially have meant to have been funny or ironic but didn’t seem to fit with the narrative. We found the protagonist Sonja a difficult person to like, but maybe we weren’t meant to. We were waiting for a final twist – just make some kind of meaningful connection with another human being, but this didn’t come.

As a group we did find certain chapters very funny, especially close to the beginning, the preference to eat cake in the fairground café rather than take a wholesome walk through the woods particularly raised smiles. We did agree that the characters of Jytte and Ellen were interesting and we would have liked to seem them feature more, their challenge to Sonja’s way of life at first seemed like catalysts to the story, but just seem to peter out.

The parts of the book that shed light on Scandinavia were very enjoyable to read; the landscape, the people of different areas and benefits of a good massage. This is possibly the most significant effect the book had on our group as most members would like a proper massage from Ellen now.

We have enjoyed being part of the shadowing process this year, especially as it has led to a great deal more contact amongst group members between meetings. We are really looking forward to the Prize Night Party on the 14th June, we are all bringing international dishes to share, and although this wasn’t one of the best books we have read, we feel there is enough spirit in there from the author that we really do wish her well for the prize, we are #TeamDorthe."

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