Director's Cut: Nick Barley's International View - Tuesday 22 August

Director's Cut: Nick Barley's International View - Tuesday 22 August

Earlier this year, Book Festival Director Nick Barley chaired the judging panel for the 2017 Man Booker International Prize – a prize awarded annually for the finest piece of fiction in translation, and shared equally by the author and translator. In a series of blog posts running throughout the Festival, he gives you an insight into what went into selecting this year’s winner and highlights some of the top international authors appearing at the Book Festival this year:

The Danish phenomenon that is Dorthe Nors

I spent a bit of time with Adam Freudenheim, the canny young owner of Pushkin Press, at the Guadalajara Book Fair a few years ago. He’s ambitious and willing to take risks with the kind of books that bigger, more established publishing companies can’t get past their sales committees and corporate boards. Although we were both in Mexico searching for new Latin American writers, I couldn’t help being impressed by Adam’s description of a book he was about to publish by a young Danish writer named Dorthe Nors. It was, he promised, a novel written entirely in headlines and its name was Minna Needs Rehearsal Space. Because it was so short, and formally so unusual, he’d decided to publish the book back to back (flip it over and see a second cover) with her book of short stories, Karate Chop. Both were gorgeously translated by the talented US-based writer Misha Hoekstra. Perhaps it was the Mexican sunshine or the strength of the Mescal in those parts: either way, I was seduced by Adam’s story and when he sent me a manuscript a few weeks later it didn’t take me long to see for myself why he was so confident. I invited Dorthe to speak at the Book Festival in 2015 and was really pleased to be able to chair a lovely event with her alongside a young British master of the short story, Stuart Evers. Both authors’ books were pretty special, but I felt that in Dorthe Nors I’d discovered a writer whose sparse Scandinavian style might make her a very hot literary property indeed.

When I scanned through the early list of entries to the Man Booker International Prize, Dorthe’s name was one of several that stood out (as it did also for my fellow judge Daniel Hahn, who’d been in the audience for that Book Festival event with Dorthe a year previously). Danny and I were both itching to read Mirror, Shoulder, Signal – Dorthe’s first ‘traditional’ novel to be translated into English, even if we wondered why it hadn’t been titled Mirror, Signal, Manoeuvre.

In some ways, at first read, Dorthe’s new book felt less instantly beguiling than Minna Needs Rehearsal Space: it wasn’t a madcap formal experiment like Minna had been, and its greater length meant it lacked some of the killer punches of her short stories in Karate Chop. Yet as the judges discussed the subtleties of Mirror, Shoulder, Signal, we realised that this is every bit as accomplished as Nors’s other works. However, because it’s built around a single woman struggling to find her way in life, it assumes a quieter, more subtle tone of voice. The more you read it, the more it’s possible to discern beneath the rather light-hearted and humourous tone, a dark undercurrent of self-doubt. Make no mistake: Nors’s latest novel is an exceptionally accomplished work, even if not all the reviewers spent enough time with it to capture its subtleties.

I like Dorthe’s work so much that I’ve decided to chair her again, this time in an event with a writer named Gonzalo C Garcia. A proof copy of his book, We Are at the End, only just landed in my inbox a few days ago, so I’ll be racing to finish it before the event. But I can forgive the publisher for the late arrival because it’s being brought into the world (in September) by another brave and tiny independent British imprint, Galley Beggar – the people who first had the courage to publish Eimear McBride. Garcia’s novel sounds like the perfect counterpart to Dorthe Nors’s gorgeously laconic brand of Danish existential angst. I hope you’ll come along and meet them both.

Nick Barley interviews Dorthe Nors and Gonzalo C Garcia on Wednesday 23 August at 7.00pm. Tickets for the event are available online, by calling the Box Office on 0845 373 5888 or by visiting the Book Festival Box Office in the Charlotte Square Gardens Entrance Tent.


Edinburgh International Book Festival - bringing you the finest in translated fiction in association with The Man Booker International Prize

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