Both of the novellas comprised in So Much For That Winter, tr. Misha Hoekstra (2016. Original: Det var så den vinter, 2016/ Minna mangler et øvelokale, 2013 & Dage, 2010) are pervaded by a strong sense of alienation, melancholy, and loneliness. They read as if you were writing from a tightrope, precariously balancing yourself between cynicism and insight – or, better still, as if you were caught in the strange, blurred space where crying is on the brink of turning into laughter, and vice-versa.
The first novella, Minna Needs Rehearsal Space, is told by a third-person narrator, in a sequence of short declarative paragraphs – which give us as sense that we are scrolling through a series of status updates and headlines on Facebook. The protagonist, Minna, is a 40-year-old composer who has a slight tendency to compare herself with the people she follows online. Even her mother has a blog, where she is more intimate than with her own the family. To make matters worse, Minna has just been dumped by her boyfriend through a text message, and he has not only blocked her on Facebook, but also taken up with her former (and seemingly more successful) classmate. To top it all off, Minna has lost her rehearsal space, and must spend her days in the public library, writing a soundless sonata. Her friends and family keep bothering her with emails, blog posts, and cell phone calls. Minna is in desperate need to escape her life in order to to regain her privacy – both on and offline -, and to practice her musical compositions and her singing. When she travels to the beach, she ends up finding, out in the open, a room (and a voice) of her own.
The second novella, Days, is narrated in first person by a middle-aged writer who, much like Minna, has just gone through a break-up. Shattered in her ability to put order to her thoughts, the narrator tries to assemble her daily activities in numbered lists, as she drifts from the zoo, to the cemetery, then to supermarket:
- Chopped lettuce without cutting my finger
- and decided that perhaps in time something good would happen. I do know that something will, I know it, like when you’re riding a train across Zealand in winter:
- darkness darkness darkness darkness
- and then suddenly a greenhouse crackling warm
- in the middle of it all.
In a combination of random thoughts, scattered memories, and occasional epiphanies, her listing of numbered fragments reads like a series of journal entries mixed with notes for a future book. It ends up by having the opposite effect than the one the narrator intended: instead of imposing order and logic on her mind and life, the numbered lists simply mirror her grief, her disorder, and, ultimately, her inability to write.
The novellas share a similar voice and could be read in tandem, or even as prose-poems. Both of them are set in the minds of the protagonists – playing with form and point of view, and using structures that represent the struggles the main characters are going through in their lives.
The novellas are supposed to sound like monotonous, solitary monologues, but, in the end, what stands out are the blanks in-between the sentences and lists: the poetic insights that piece together the fragments, then scatter them again between the lines – like small lights flickering, always on the brink of becoming invisible.
“The mermaid clings to dry land, angry and insecure. The mermaid is pure wet will.” – Dorthe Nors, So Much for That Winter
Minna’s chest arches over her heart. The heart is lovely in its dissolution. The heart has weathered the storm. – Dorthe Nors, So Much for That Winter
The ocean’s outside the window, but The ocean’s inside Minna too. Minna sits with the sea inside. (…) The sea rises in Minna. The sea finds fissures in Minna. Minna’s leaky. Minna opens her eyes and blinks. The sea trickles slowly. The sea reaches land. – Dorthe Nors, So Much for That Winter
About the book
- Graywolf Press, 2016, tr. Misha Hoekstra, 160 p. Goodreads
- Original title: Det var så den vinter
- First published in 2016
- The book comprises the novellas Minna mangler et øvelokale (2013) & Dage (2010)
- My rating: 5 stars
- I read this book for Backpack Through Europe Reading Challenge & Novellas in November