‘The Wadden Sea’ by Dorthe Nors, translated from the Danish by Martin Aitken

I should probably pick Nors’s first story for the New Yorker, ‘The Heron’, because then I could link to it. That’s the one with “young women with their stony faces and big baby carriages. They always come in flocks, great flocks of mothers, and they stir up bad feelings in one another, so none of them will even look at you when you walk past”, which you’ll remember every time you see group of buggied mums in a park. But I’m going for ‘The Wadden Sea’, which closes Nors’s collection, Karate Chop, for its sheer, devastating bleakness. A mother, escaping depression, alcoholism, fear of life, moves to Sønderho, miles from Copenhagen, with her young daughter, for the pure air and authenticity of the Wadden Sea. But it turns out that “fear of life” managed to get on the train from Copenhagen, sail on the ferry, knock on the door, and refuse to leave. “It crawled into bed with my mother and went to the store for new supplies each day and then shut itself in and piled itself up in the shed so that after a few months I had to call my grandmother.” After six, sparse pages, I’m still not sure what happens at the end, which would bother me more if Nors herself, who I interviewed for the erstwhile Independent on Sunday, hadn’t told the Paris Review that the story’s last line – “She said the Wadden Sea was an image in the mind’s eye, and that she was glad I wanted to go with her into it.” – was a puzzle.

Collected in Karate Chop, Pushkin Press, 2017

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