Thursday, February 24, 2011

Crimes horticoles

Ooh la la... it's been a week since my last post. I wasn't going to leave it so long, but I guess I've been up to things.

I thought it would be a good time to get into specifics. So... in order to publish an English-language translation of a book that was originally published in French, the Anglo publisher must first buy the English-language rights of the book from the Franco publisher. I'm not sure if my publisher has sealed the deal yet, but I think that the process is far enough advanced to allow for me to talk about the book in specifics. So. It's called Crimes horticoles, by Montrealer Mélanie Vincelette (here is a link about her from the site of the publishing company that she started). Thus the title of this blog. 

Thus, in addition, an accident waiting to happen. Despite popular wisdom to the contrary, I feel like an awful lot of books are bought based on their appearance. I, too, am susceptible the siren song that is a beautifully bound, beautifully printed book. About a year ago I picked up a book that was so visually stunning that I was almost desperate to read it immediately... not unlike the pheromone rush experienced upon meeting an inordinately handsome potential lover, perhaps? The book was Hunger, by Elise Blackwell (which, amazingly, you can read in it's entirety on Googlebooks here... I mean, is that even legal?), and the edition was a beautiful hardcover copy that looked like this:

Ooh, those vibrant jewel tones on that sleek black. How could I resist? Fortunately for me, the book, a slim but powerful little beast which centres on a Russian immigrant to New York looking back on the siege of Leningrad, turned out to be quite a good read. But back to the point, which was that many books are bought and sold based on how their cover looks, or perhaps on their... title?

The title Crimes horticoles is a reference to the poppies cultivated by the protagonist's father, intended for opiate production: a fairly minor subplot in the grand scheme of the novel. I'm not saying that it's inconsequential, just that it's hardly the focal point.

Felonies of a Botanical Nature is just a lark, really. A wildly improbable title for a novel. But it's a joke that is, in reality, hiding my own discomfort with the title, both of the French novel and of its obvious literal translation, "Horticultural Crimes." Ask yourself, would you pick up a book with that title? And then you see my dilemma.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Metalanguage as Art

And what's a girl to do with language that talks about language, that describes what kind of language a person speaks? Imagine translating Irvine Welsh's Trainspotting (check out this hilarious link) into another language. What a nightmare for the translator. I imagine it would feel like multiple levels of subtlety and nuance slipping through their fingers as they struggle to convey the essential material...

Michel Tremblay has a style that is somewhat comparable. His narrative is in more or less standard French, while the dialogue, which happens to be a good chunk of the text, is in joual, a Quebecois slang dialect. I've read both his La grosse femme d'à côté est enceinte and it's English translation, The Fat Woman Next Door is Pregnant, which was remarkably well done by Sheila Fischman - the goddess of Canadian French-English literary translation. But even a killer awesome translator like Fischman can't make an English reader understand what it means to be speaking in joual, or feel the colour and the culture that is behind the dialect.

My problem with language is much less complex, but still is giving me pause. There's a character named Liam who is from the south of France, and his accent is described in the novel, along with examples. 

Il dit : « J'aime le paigne frais », mais parfois ça se complique : « Tu as les yeux bordés d'anchois. » Ce qui veut dire : « Tu as l'air fatigué. »

This would be child's play for Fischman, and yet... maybe I can leave some of it in French, or do a little explanitory "He says paigne instead of pain" or something of that nature...

Friday, February 11, 2011

Pathé, Baby.

It seems like, in translating a novel, the problems one comes across can be divided into the aesthetic and the cultural. 

The aesthetic ones are, if not necessarily more easily tackled, then at least less dire to the actual flow and comprehension and relevance of the novel. These are the ones that have to do with poetry: picking between "naked" and "nude" and "unclothed," or between "pious" and "religious." These questions must be tackled in every phrase, on every page, and they are what contribute to the general flow and readability of the novel. No one is going to misunderstand you; at the very most they will call you a lousy writer. 

So the issue at hand, mostly, is what to do when an English-speaking public has mostly no idea about what you're talking about. This came up for me the other day in a reference to the Pathé Baby, an amateur home movie camera, sort of a precursor to the Super 8.

 Pathé Baby, 1923

In the novel, the reference was thrown out there as though everyone and their dog would know what Pathé Baby minirolls would be. And hell, maybe it's true, maybe I'm the only one who's never heard of that. But I don't think so. I'm not even sure that it wouldn't be a fairly obscure reference even to a francophone audience. 

So. I have to make the decision. Either adapt the text, substituting an alternate, more well-known but similar object for the Pathé Baby 9.5mm film rolls, (perhaps a Kodak 8mm, or a Super 8?) to make the text accessible to an English-speaking reader, or to leave it as it is, inspiring some readers to look it up and find out what the heck the novel is talking about, but perhaps alienating others with such an obscure reference. 

This is the endless debate over whether a translation should be "dumbed down" for its target audience (a less-than-appealing term for a widely embraced practice), or maintained as close as possible to the original text, and damn you if you don't get it.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

First post: the why and the wherefore

Ok. First post. So. I've never blogged before, I figure maybe anyone who blogs does it at least in part to indulge their vanity, so that's maybe part of the wherefore. But here's what I'm up to:

I am translating a novel. From French to English. And as I go about this business, it occurs to me that it's not so easy to make the decisions required to create a finished piece of work that will be readable at the end. Create, you say? I understand your skepticism. Translation is hardly creating something out of nothing. But because I am translating a book that I like, it is important to me that the translation be not only faithful, but also good. Poetic. Rolling trippingly off the tongue, and all that.

So here's a forum for me to put out some of my ideas, and if people end up reading this, I can maybe get some feedback about how the book should be. In fact, maybe this translation can be a collaborative effort between you, dear blog-reader, and I.