That Mad Ache / Translator, Trader

tmaBy Francoise Sagan / Douglas Hofstadter.

This is really two books in one though they are linked. Translator, Trader is an essay covering the ruminations of Douglas Hofstadter as he translated Sagan’s novel ‘la Chamade’ which he renamed ‘That Mad Ache’.

Translator, Trader was perhaps more interesting than That Mad Ache. In it Hofstadter goes into great detail over the issues that presented themselves both specific and general while translating. In the most general sense he had to decide how far to deviate from the literal interpretation of the text in order to create a new work of art in English. Some of the examples he gave did seem a little colloquial but having said that, Sagan’s novel isn’t exactly Stendhal or Chateaubriand. She writes in a fairly breezy way in keeping with the time she was writing. So, Hofstadter is probably ok to translate in a much less literal sense in order to give the novel the meaning and cohesion he requires in English. He has also translated Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin which I would be concerned about if he started using Americanisms like ‘broad’ or ‘dame’ – not that he does. Still, very interesting and revealing particularly since I am helping translate an enormous strange novel from the early 20th century. In this case colloquialisms wouldn’t work as reading it in the original language the prose is quite bonkers, verbose with an extravagant vocabulary. In this instance, to try to recreate that madness and absurdity in English you would have to translate in an overblown literate way.

I think Hofstadter succeeds, the novel reads well and the excerpts that seemed to grate when he quoted outside the novel worked in context and I didn’t notice them – the novel seemed very smooth. I am less sure about his decision to add extra chapters because the novel’s action months after Autumn and two years later didn’t fall under the seasonal moniker ‘Autumn’. I think Sagan meant a less than literal Autumn – it was obviously the Autumn of their relationship or love. So, Hofstadter definitely did put his stamp on this translation and it works well.

As to Sagan’s novel – it was good. I didn’t think it was amazing. I remember I really liked  ‘A Certain Smile’ quite a few years ago and this was every bit as good. I guess now I like a bit more humour in a novel and greater substance. It is still very affecting – not in the same way that Gides’s ‘Strait is the Gate’ is, but it’s well worth reading. If you add Hofstadter’s Translator, Trader into the equation then this double book is excellent.

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