Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Literature in Translation

I'm afraid I'm going to be a bit of a shadow figure for the next couple of weeks. I've just moved house and won't be able to get fixed up to the Internet until at least 11th March. I'm currently writing this is an Oxford pub, and whilst I have no objections to this, I doubt if the bar man would be too happy if I became a resident reviewer at one of his tables .... although, I don't know, I could become a tourist attraction.

Watch this space .....

Anyway, boring you about my Internet, or lack thereof, is not the point of this post. I intend to talk to you about a beautiful novel that I have just finished.

This is 'The Elegance of the Hedgehog' by Muriel Barbery, and has been translated from the French. I don't normally read literature in translation - there's far too much originally written in English that I have to make my way through, that I just don't have the time. This however, is a secret gem. Quietly unassuming, and at the beginning a bit hard going (as if trying to prove a point), it blossoms into a beautiful piece of writing that captures the imagination and the heart.

The plot revolves around two central characters - Renee, the concierge to an expensive block of apartments, who struggles to hide her true, intellectual, self behind an uneducated stereotype, and Paloma - a twelve year old resident, who is a genius, determined to kill herself but not before having some profound thoughts. These two unlikely compatriots are brought together and enrich each others lives, whilst also changing their views of the world around them.

I have been converted to translated literature through this book. I didn't think it was possible to love something so much, and be so heartbroken at the way it turned out as I was. I was so sure I knew what the denouement would entail, and when the total reverse happened, I was truly shocked. It's a wonderful book, and if you haven't read it, you really should go in search. It's elegance is truly mesmerising.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Moving towards A.S. Byatt

Tonight is my last night in the family home - I finally move out tomorrow, after months of just talking about it!

I'd probably be a lot more excited, had I not been laid low by a stonking cold (and cough) and if I'd done an iota of packing. C'est la vie - I'm not moving very far, just up the road in fact, so that should be a blessing when it comes to carting my things.

So, to commemorate this last night, I thought I'd take you on a tour of my favourite book of the year, so far .... even though I read most of it in 2009.

I've struggled with A.S. Byatt in the past - I always stop at the same place when reading 'Possession', and I've not been able to settle into anything else of hers. Also, I went right off her personally when I read her comments about Harry Potter readers 'Ms Rowling's magic world has no place for the numinous. It is written for people whose imaginative lives are confined to TV cartoons and the exaggerated (more exciting, not threatening) mirror-worlds of soaps, reality TV and celebrity gossip.' Bah humbug.
Happily, this did not put me off picking up 'The Children's Book' , and just as well, because it is a revelation to me. Starting out in 1895 and sweeping right through to the end of world war one, it is a portrait of half a dozen free thinking families whose lives all intertwine. At it's root is an adherence to Fabianism and artistry, so that the reader becomes familiar with the inner workings of the Victoria and Albert Museum, pot making and the writing of fairy tales. A.S. Byatt is adept at turning her writing to other forms and so manages to weave these tales as well as the rest of her novel.

Nothing I was expecting to happen actually does so, and those characters I was so interested in at the beginning shift, so that their importance is lessened later, much like the lives of any normal family.

This is a book that will stay with one, the richness of it only fully being appreciated the longer you think about it. And I love the cover - what more do you need!