This morning I experienced one of those magical moments. I picked up a new book, opened the cover and started to read. Before I had got to the bottom of page one I was already thinking ‘I LOVE this book!’ and tuning out everything that was happening around me as I disappeared into the world of the author (sorry, family).
Now, if you are reading a book by an author you know, this can be a really comfortable and cosy place to be. You can’t help smiling as you snuggle down, ready to follow wherever the story takes you. You have gone with this author on satisfying story-journeys before and you trust them. You feel safe. You can lose yourself to the story, fall in love with the characters and feel confident that you will still be smiling (or happily sobbing) at the end of the book.
Today I don’t feel like that. Reluctantly, I had to put my new book down and get ready for work. I’d far rather have grabbed a coffee and carried on reading. Instead I packed my little lunch box and headed out to the car. All morning, while I’ve been making phone calls, answering emails and updating files, there’s been a little niggle at the back of my mind. What if the rest of the book isn’t as good as the first pages? What if the writer takes me on a joyous journey and then abandons me before I’m ready? Can I trust them? If this was a book by a writer I know and love, I would be abandoning the keyboard this afternoon and diving back into the story (and, in case you were wondering, it’s not one of the books in the pictures). Instead I’m tapping on the keys of my laptop and feeling anxious.
Correction. I’m feeling doubly anxious. This isn’t just a book by an author I haven’t read before, but it’s a translated book. That means I’m in the hands of TWO unknown entities. They have worked well together at the beginning of the book, but what if they disagree later and it all goes horribly wrong? Whose voice am I hearing anyway, the writer’s or the translators? Does it matter?
I’ve heard that when someone translates the lyrics of a song they try to be true to the feeling and the meaning of the original rather than a direct translation of the words. Is the same true with novels? Writers place a huge amount of trust in the people who translate their books. Unless they are fluent in more than one language, how will they know that the story being read, for example, in Italy, is the story they wanted to tell?
If I keep thinking like this I will get myself in a total tizzy and never finish that book. Which would be a shame, because I REALLY did enjoy the first few pages. Decision made. I’m off to put the kettle on and settle down for a good read. Or maybe I should just do some ironing first…
I say read the rest of the book! I want to know if it’s any good now …
I think it depends on the translator whether or not they stay true to the meaning of the text, or to the actual text. I’ve read books by German authors with lots of strange idioms in, that I slowly realised were sayings in the original language that we didn’t use in English. I’ve also read Japanese books that use words like ‘Nii-san’, because we don’t really have an equivalent in English, and Japanese books that use the closest word we have – usually ‘Grandma’ or ‘old lady’ (but ‘Nii-san’ is meant to be extremely polite, unlike the English terms!).