DENMARK (**)

Dorthe Nors — Minna needs a rehearsal space / Karate Chop (2013)

Setting: Very much modern-day Denmark.

What it’s about: Pastoral scenes of modern life, told in very sparse, unadorned prose that lays bare everyday life with a simultaneous sense of humour, respect and irony. These are stories about the small towns and small people you won’t see on TV (except maybe reality TV).

The short texts take on cancer, bullying, domestic violence, depression, and internet addiction unsparingly, compellingly getting straight to the heart of the matter without ceremony.

Nors has a brilliant, sympathetic eye for the seedy sides of life, like when she describes the town drunks:

Like rooks, they tended to attract each other so that certain parts of the town or clusters of people with indistinct a pronunciation and chinking shopping bags.

Why you should read it: It has been pitched as a book for the digital age, for those with short attention spans thanks to the internet. It has been published very originally by Pushkin Press, with one longer novella on one side, and a series of short stories on the other (hence the cover).

That novella is poetically composed purely of one-liners, a conceit that works brilliantly in depicting loneliness in the digital age. In The Guardian, Nors describes it as “a novel in headlines”. The composer, Minna “is alone but surrounded”, starts by being dumped by text message, which spurs her to go to an island to escape city life:

Minna has gotten Lars to elaborate on his text.
Lars has written, but I’m not really in love with you
Lars has always understood how to cut to the chase
Minna can’t ring anymore out of him
Lars is a wall
Lars is a porcupine

The stream of headlines gives a simple story and great pace, and a gentle irony to the simple annoyance of life, like bumping into annoying people you don’t want to talk to:

Disappointment inhabits her mind like rainy weather>

is immediately followed by

Minna really wants an asshole filter.

You can try my favourite story, in which a government speechwriter tires of telling “international lies” and instead (mis)runs an NGO here.

 

You’ll like it if you liked: Etgar Keret, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love by Raymond Carver.

The definitive Danish novel? Of modern Denmark. For a historical novel, try The Prophets of Eternal Fjord, for a tasteful, compelling tale that takes a missionary through late 18th century Copenhagen to the Danish colony of Greenland. The events in the book cleverly crossover with the timeline of the French Revolution, alluding to events there without ever directly being affected by them. One of those “present tense” historical novel that has great rhythm to it, without feeling contrived, but rather a sense of place and an eye for detail.

Rating: **

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