This has been quite a tedious read. Perhaps it is befitting here to blame the translator for the dry, wiry prose that dampened an otherwise mildly interesting premise.
Sonja, our protagonist, is a forty-something year old literary translator who is stuck between defining relationships and identities of others and herself. She is distanced from her family and settling in a new city where she is learning how to drive (albeit unsuccessfully). A horde of characters around her include her driving instructors, her family, a masseuse and some friends.
The author (or the translator) failed to develop a bond between the reader and the characters. Copenhagen fails to make a mark as the chief setting of the novel. The characters are isolated and boxed in writing only.
This is one of those few books which bring upon self-loathing whilst reading, on account of the fact that I cannot abandon a book midway and must conclude it at all costs, no matter the tedium and dullness that comes along the way.
A selection of my favourite passages from the book
• Language is powerful, almost magic, and the smallest alteration can elevate a sentence or be its undoing.
• With Jytte, all bad things stem from quiet. Just like Kate, Jytte senses danger in blank expanses, so the thing is to abrade them with tedious speech, cake recipes, dog hair
• The back of the heart is the spot between the shoulder blades. Ellen calls it the back of the heart because that’s where you get stabbed when you get stabbed in the back
• Everything’s supposed to mean something else, everything’s supposed to be rising, tearing itself free of its wrappings, climbing up to some higher meaning; it’s supposed to get away from where it’s been. Reality will not suffice
• Ellen has a practical bent, Sonja reminds herself; she’s the type that has a grasp of the tangible. She also thinks I should form my hands like a funnel over my head so the universe can dribble energy into me, which means she’s got a grasp of the intangible too
• Life ought to be kept at a boil, dramas a-simmer, and beneath the love you never had there should be the roar of tinder-dry twigs catching fire.
• Mom’s world exists within herself. She doesn’t need to ring up the world outside
• That the past contains stones we can use to build a bridge to a better future—Kate doesn’t buy it
• When it rains this hard, she can’t see the city she’s gone astray in. Nor can she hear it.
• Her face is a sieve that would let water trickle right out, and she has to focus to shut it off.
• She learned the city’s movements, its dialog, its form. But bit by bit it stopped making sense.
• Back where I come from, we’ve got a heath so large and ancient that it’s developed its own consciousness