Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Lost in Translation*

So here's what's up. First it's been really hot and I've been spending too much time on my own, two things I'm not all that good at.

But the big thing is – and notice I'm not calling it a problem – that I've started translating Clemens Meyer's novel Im Stein. And I genuinely think it's the best novel to come out of Germany for years, which makes every new book I read seem pale and unimpressive. I don't think it's fair to review those books here under the circumstances, so I haven't been. I've read a couple that will be coming out at the end of the summer, which I do think are good (although not as good as Im Stein) and I'll try and write about them later on. But at the moment I think many publishers are holding back the good stuff for the autumn. So that's one side to it.

The other is that this translation is incredibly intense. The book contains all sorts of snippets of knowledge and quotes, from Karl Marx to the Brothers Grimm to geology to forensic medicine and, especially, the sex industry. On my desk I have a dictionary of Marxist thought, a dictionary of nursery rhymes, a dictionary of police terminology, an East German book of English songs, an anthology of writing by sex workers, plus the usual thesaurus and a website I hate but have to call up several times a day, explaining abbreviations used in online forums for rating prostitutes' services. I'm reading background material and chasing after quotes and absolutely tied up in this project.

Meyer writes like a dervish, creating a cynical psychedelic rock opera, rarely coming up for air. And I'm right in there, in my translation tunnel, in the flow, typing in tongues to channel the characters' voices and Meyer's crazed tone. I'm doing it quickly, intensely, because that's the way I understand it best. So I'll spend eight hours at a time in this world of pimps and prostitutes, bikers, managers, punters, detectives, florists, heartbroken fathers and resigned daughters, and if someone speaks to me I can't always answer because my mind isn't really in the room. I'm loving it and it's making me a little bit disturbed. I think it will get worse before it gets better.

This is something I've worked towards for two years, or in fact more since I first heard Clemens Meyer reading extracts from the work in progress. It took a long time to find a publisher brave enough to take on the novel and the writer, neither of them easy to work with but both incredibly rewarding. Fitzcarraldo Editions are a new publishing house with some extremely exciting books out already, and I think the novel fits perfectly with their catalogue. And then it took a long time for the publisher to find the money to pay for my work, which is expensive because the book is long. I wanted to do this so badly and I knew it would affect me very intensely, and it is. There's one chapter that I know will make me sick to translate, and I'm hoping I can find a place to work on that chapter where I never have to go again, so that my everyday environment doesn't get poisoned. I'm not sure when that's coming up though.

My translation should be out in the autumn of 2016, and then you will tremble and maybe understand why I'm feeling so strange. I dread to think what the inside of Clemens Meyer's head must have looked like while he wrote it. I dread to think what the inside of my head will look like by the time I finish translating it. I am doing exactly what I want to be doing. But it's so gargantuan that it's making a lot of other things seem small and insignificant. At the risk of laying on the pathos (I don't care though because if Meyer's not scared of pathos then I can't be either), I need to take care of my daughter and myself during my precious hours of sanity, and if that means my blog suffers, so be it.

*Great title, huh? I felt it was my turn to use it.


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