Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Pipped to the Love Virtually Post

Gah! You know when you have the most fantastic idea ever in the whole history of humankind? And then someone else does it first!

So, please go now to the blog of British publishing company Quercus, where someone else (Vivienne Nilan to be precise, of Athens Plus newspaper of all things) has done a great interview with Katharina Bielenberg and Jamie Bulloch.

Who? Why, Katharina Bielenberg and Jamie Bulloch are a husband and wife who have translated a book together - Daniel Glattauer's Love Virtually. What? Why, it's a super-top-mega-bestseller by an Austrian writer, about a secret email affair. A great quick read, it's actually a bit meatier than you might think and certainly incredibly gripping. I read it last weekend and could not, as they say, put it down - which I did resent slightly, but there you go. As Katharina Bielenberg points out in the interview, people do have secret email affairs, and the book does very well at capturing the combination of excitement and guilt that entails. Plus lots of cliffhangers and a sequel to come.

It's published by MacLehose Press, the people who launched Stieg Larsson on an unsuspecting English-speaking world, thus proving that translations can indeed sell in huge numbers. The brains behind the outfit, Christopher MacLehose, is known for his - let's say - very free approach to translations. Of course I'm highly prejudiced against him, as he's on record somewhere as saying you have to be old to translate well. Hmpf. He's a bit of an old-school editor who's more than happy to chop the bits he doesn't like, causing some controversy over the Larsson books. The credited translator, Reg Keeland, is a pseudonym for Steven Murray – allegedly because he didn't like what was done to his version. Joan Acocella wrote recently in a rather unfriendly piece in the New Yorker:

MacLehose stands by his work. “I did edit the translation, yes,” he wrote to me, “but it isn’t a particularly interesting fact or story and it has earned me enough abuse already from the translator and from the author’s former partner. Perhaps [it is] sufficient to say that seven or eight houses in England turned it down in its original form”—Murray’s English translation—“and seven or eight in America. In its edited form, as many Americans bid for it.”

Reg Keeland/Steven Murray, by the way, happens to have a very cool blog called Stieg Larsson's English Translator.

But to get back to the point, had there not already been a very good interview with the translators of Love Virtually, I would have asked them whether it's more legitimate to interfere with a text during the translation process if it's what we call genre fiction than if it's Kafka. But other than that, it's a great interview.

And I'd like to officially state that I'm very pleased to see more lightweight German books being successful in translation; the perfect example right now being Oliver Pötzsch's The Hangman's Daughter (trans. Lee Chedayne). Let's hope they pave the way for a revolution in reading habits. Like German books with no Nazis in them, for a start...

1 comment:

Reg said...

Hi Katy, great to find out about you. I love Berlin, was just there in November for the first time since 1983 -- wow, is it ever different.

On the Larsson front, your info about me is correct. And I love your characterization of the New Yorker piece. As John Lee Hooker would say, "Backbiters and syndicators."

Drop me a line if you want to hear more: bloozshooz at gmail dot com. And I have some questions for you as well.

My translation of Peter Prange's The Philosopher's Kiss will be coming out sometime this year -- set in 18th-century Paris, there's hardly a word about Germany in it.

I look forward to our correspondence. -- Steve