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Wednesday 27 January 2010

Audio Rights for Washington Shadow

As well as the large print rights, Isis have now acquired the Unabridged Audio Rights for Washington Shadow.

Monday 18 January 2010

Inspector Proust

At Christmas, my husband gave me the last part of Javier Marías’ three part novel Your Face Tomorrow, translated by Margaret Jull Costa.

I have now read the three volumes of the novel first in Spanish and then in English. As an editor said to me – ‘awfully good but an awful lot of words’.

And it is true. As Marías has aged, he has written very much longer. More to see, more to describe.

When younger he could almost be brief. A Man of Feeling – it always reminds me of Nabokov’s novel about a chess player – and All Souls – a mercilessly witty account of Oxford University - are both short, almost novellas.

In his mid-period, when he began to sell very well in Spanish speaking countries and Germany, and attract the attention of Impac librarians, he began to write longer books, but would inject a folletinesco or penny shocker element, beginning a novel with a bang.

In A Heart So White – yes, Javier Marias has a fondness for Shakespearian titles – the novel opens with a young woman rising from a dining table, going to a bathroom, and shooting herself. It also contains one of the funniest scenes in recent literature when someone not unlike Mrs Thatcher, and another person not unlike King Juan Carlos of Spain, begin a conversation instigated by a (mis-) translator simultaneously trying to seduce the other translator.

In Tomorrow in the Battle, Think of Me the narrator wakes up to find his partner in a love affair is dead beside him. Her 9 year old son is in the house and the narrator has, very quickly, to learn that he is an unknown, if sexually intimate, interloper in the rest of her life.

Marías has often used parallels from his own life – he did teach at Oxford, for example – and mixed real names in with invented people, but was most definitely not writing a roman à clef.

In Dark Back of Time he moved this on and wrote much longer still. And in Your Face Tomorrow, he makes use of real people and perhaps even words they really said.

Javier Marías has a point. His father Julián was a philosopher, and in real life was betrayed by a friend who turned on him, invented stories and reported him to Franco’s thugs. Julián Marías was briefly in prison, but escaped with his life and had to move his family to the US to be able to teach.

In the first part of the novel there is a wonderful section in which the narrator’s betrayed father argues that his son’s questions – the whys, why would a friend do this, did you have no inkling of what he was capable of, etc – do not help understanding but tend to bring the enquirer down to the bitterness, envy and fear of the betrayer.

For the son it’s not so simple because his mother’s life, his siblings and his own, have all been changed and to some extent twisted by someone who is just a name. Julián Marías never gave that name. In this book, Javier Marías has.

In a sense the book is a monument to his father – and to Sir Peter Russell, a hispanist and, during World War 2, a spy. Sir Peter was born with the surname Wheeler – the name he is given in the novel. Both died fairly recently.

But anyone who has seen Javier Marías gleefully pronounce the narrator’s surname Deza (Death-a) knows he has much more in mind.

Marías is frequently compared to Proust by reviewers. This refers to the quality of the fiction, and to an apparent discursiveness and sometimes long sentences. He can also sound pernickety, but that is only if you deny that we all speak different languages, even when we speak the same one. The comparison with Proust may also be because Marcel had the notion that writers translate the world for the reader.

There is that amusing story by Harold Nicolson of Proust asking him how his day had gone at the Versailles negotiations after World War I. Nicolson tried to respond briefly. Proust stopped him. ‘Begin at the beginning,’ he said. ‘What was your motor car and what was the driver wearing?’

There is some of that sense of detail in Your Face Tomorrow , a careful leisureliness – but it is of an insidious sort. It makes the shocks leap when they come.

You are warned, however. The first volume of the novel opens with a discussion of Miranda – the “anything you say, may be taken down and used against you” Miranda, rather than Prospero’s daughter in the Tempest. The extraordinary thing about the Miranda warning is that it implies words are truly dangerous and can betray you or be made to betray you.

Is Your Face Tomorrow a crime novel? No. Is it a spy thriller? No. That would not be fair. It is not a genre book. But it is about the dark arts of espionage, character reading, prediction of how people will react, misinformation, power, loyalty, betrayal and trust.

I found it almost hypnotic.

Sunday 10 January 2010

Large Print Rights- Washington Shadow

Isis Publishing have just acquired the Large Print rights for Washington Shadow. I am intrigued to see what cover they will choose.

Tuesday 5 January 2010

Fair's Fair, Very Rare - The Value of Translators

A few days ago I saw a video of an interview with Javier Marías. The publication in English of the third part of his three part novel, Your Face Tomorrow, has finally seen widespread recognition of his very considerable talents.

It can take an extraordinarily long time for a fine writer to gain recognition in another language. If I remember correctly it took about twenty years for Gabriel García Márquez’ s A Hundred Years of Solitude to get through to a wide audience in the UK, much less time in the USA.

There are so many things to go wrong, of course. The very first of these is the translator. A great translator is as rare as a great writer. Like Gabriel Garcia Marquez with Gregory Rabassa, Marías has been blessed with Margaret Jull Costa.

It is simply not enough to be enthusiastic and conscientious. The saddest case I know concerns Alfredo Bryce Echenique. Author of Un Mundo para Julius (A World for Julius) and La Vida Exagerada de Martin Romaῇa, (The Exaggerated Life of Martin Romaῇa), it is unlikely you will have heard of him or enjoyed this wonderful Peruvian writer’s books. Why not?

Well, courtesy of an American University and a grant from, I think, a phosphate company, an English translation was made of Un Mundo para Julius. At one level there is absolutely nothing wrong with it. The language is correct, it reads like a conscientious labour of love and everything about the production is well-intentioned. But somehow, in English, a very fine book reads like a flat, dull book - and consequently, it has not reached the wide English speaking audience it deserves.

The reason is that academics are not always good writers. They don’t have that extraordinary combination of empathy and skill that transfers the delight of a book in one language to another. Marías knows. He has himself translated (very well indeed) the great Tristram Shandy into Spanish.

Note that direction, English to Spanish. Javier Marías speaks excellent English but does not translate his own books because he knows that Margaret Jull Costa does it better. Translators have to know themselves, and writers when to ask for rewriters. If I can put it like this – in the interview Javier Marías speaks confident, fluent English when answering questions; when he reads extracts from his book you can hear he is Spanish.

There is also, of course, the money side of things. Translators are shockingly badly paid. I have talked to a number of translators in Spain. They often get one month to translate. And it shows. I have been there when a scout turned down a book ‘because it is too well written’ , and would take more than a month to translate.

For decades, Spanish eyes have followed and translated what they see before them. This has led to some intriguing changes in Spanish syntax and vocabulary, reinforced by the dubbing of films (where the lips have to mouth different words but in time or sync.)

I was once asked to check over a film script of a blockbuster that had been translated by a very recent graduate who suspected that her grasp of American colloquialisms was deficient. The resulting script in Spanish wasn’t just gibberish, it actually changed the plot. Bruce Willis was saved but the poor girl’s fee was derisory, well below what it costs to live for a month. Clint Eastwood by the way is dubbed by a basso profundo in Spanish. Someone told me they preferred the dubbed Clint to the real Eastwood when he was interviewed on television.

Javier Marías is intelligent enough to think differently and has, I understand, a special arrangement with his translator to reflect what she means to his books in English. In 1998 he split the Impac prize (awarded for A Heart So White) with Margaret Jull Costa straight down the middle. Why? Because the readers had been reading his work in English written by her and he wanted to pay her tribute and due. Fair’s fair but just, right.