#NordicFINDS – Denmark Week – A Quirky Novella

Minna Needs Rehearsal Space by Dorthe Nors

Translated by Misha Hoekstra

Some of you will have come across Dorthe Nors from her novel Mirror Shoulder Signal which was shortlisted for the International Booker in 2017 (my full review here). In Mirror… Sonja, a newly single forty-something, decides to learn to drive as part of starting to put her life back on track, she also needs to rekindle her relationship with her sister who didn’t move to the city. The writing is witty but wistful, and I really enjoyed that longer novella.

In many ways, Nors’ earlier short novella has a lot in common with Mirror… The protagonist Minna isn’t ‘a day over forty’, and also has a troubled relationship with her older domineering sister. Minna is a composer, in a relationship with Lars, a culture journalist. Near the beginning, we learn that Minna is looking for a rehearsal space (obvs), and Lars texts her some details. Then out of nowhere:

Lars has sent a text.
Tim’s on Bornholm, it says.
Minna was prepared for something like that, but
Minna wasn’t prepared for what comes next:
Lars writes,
I think we should stop seeing each other.
Minna reads it again, but that’s what it says.
Lars is breaking up with a text.
Minna cannot breathe.
Minna has to sit down on an artificial dune.
Minna writes,
Now I don’t understand.
Minna calls on the phone.
There’s no signal.
Minna waits for an answer.
The cell is dead, and so she sits there.

Minna and Sonja are essentially in the same boat, and the rest of the stories follow their next moves as they try to find a new balance in their lives. In Minna’s case, she eventually goes off on a short holiday, taking her book about Ingmar Bergman with her–she imagines his portrait on the cover talks to her. The break isn’t entirely a success: things happen, but I wouldn’t want to spoil the story any more.

You’ll have noticed from the quotation above, that the structure of the writing is in short sentences, styled rather as a prose poem, and that around half the lines begin, ‘Minna…’ The whole novella is written in this format, with sections separated by asterisks rather than chapters. This compressed style allows Nors to tell us Minna’s story in a mere 90 pages. Once again, there is both wit and wistfulness in the writing, a sense of playfulness, but also yearning. If it hadn’t been for the prose poem writing style which I loved, Sonja and Minna’s voices might have felt too similar, with Minna being a rehearsal for Sonja perhaps. However, told in this fascinating way, which must have been fun for translator Misha Hoekstra, I found this book a novella to savour, but was also left wanting more.

Source: Own copy from the TBR. Pushkin Press paperback, 96 pages. BUY at Amazon UK via my affiliate link (not available at Blackwell’s)

8 thoughts on “#NordicFINDS – Denmark Week – A Quirky Novella

  1. Calmgrove says:

    Ninety pages of a novella seeming like a prose poem sounds too much of a good thing to me (I’m better with short form poetry) but I’ll take your word for it, Annabel! I have a review of Jostein Gaarder’s recent(-ish) fable/novel coming up, and I’ve an Icelandic novella and a Moomin title waiting, and a couple of other possibles.

  2. Liz Dexter says:

    This sounds like something I would enjoy, so I’ll look out for it. What an interesting one! I’m just sitting down to review my second NordicFINDS read and it isn’t about Iceland!

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