Tuesday, August 07, 2007

More about first lines

Jerome Weeks at BookDaddy expands on my recent post about Great first lines in crime fiction with some excellent crime-fiction openers and thoughtful comments about why they work. He also offers a wince-inducing opening from an acclaimed novel and a comment just as thoughtful about why it doesn't.

© Peter Rozovsky 2007

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10 Comments:

Anonymous LauraR said...

checked out book daddy, thanks. I think the Ellroy opening would have been fine if he'ld just punctuated it decently, and split it into a few sentences.

August 07, 2007  
Blogger Peter said...

But splitting it into a few sentences and using conventional punctuation would have destroyed the breathless effect that Ellroy strove for. I think the Ellroy example holds up especially badly against some of the other openings that Jerome cites.

The odd thing is that I remember enjoying L.A. Confidential. The prose must have settled down and become better modulated after that opening. I mean, no writer could possibly keep up that kind of hyperventilation for almost five hundred pages, could he?

August 07, 2007  
Anonymous krimileser said...

"no writer could possibly keep up that kind of hyperventilation for almost five hundred pages, could he?"

He could, I would say.

As I am not a native speaker I don't really understand LA Confidential, or Ellroy in the first place, but that what I understand that I find brillant - especially the language.

August 09, 2007  
Blogger Peter said...

Which Ellroy have you read? I read L.A. Confidential in one sitting years ago, so if the opening bothered me then, I obviously didn't let it stop me. I have not read his later novels, in which he carried his experiments in style to extremes. A short passage may be brilliant in its evocation of how a drug- or coffee-addled killer or cop sounds after staying up for seventy-two straight hours. But that does not mean I want to listen to that person for five hundred pages.

It would be interesting to look at translations of writers whose style is extreme in some way to see how (or if) the translator tries to achieve the same effects. Ellroy's openings, from what I've seen, sometimes depend on their rough, short sentences, one-syllable words, staccato rhythms and slang. How would a French or an Italian translator handle something like that?

I'd like to hear your opinion of English translations of German writers whose style is extreme, radical, highly idiomatic, or otherwise difficult for a translator to duplicate.

August 09, 2007  
Anonymous krimileser said...

"Which Ellroy have you read?"
"The black Dahlia", "The big nowhere", "LA Confidential", "White Jazz", "American tabloid" and "The cold six thousand".

Naturally, Ellroy varies the pace.

I think his vocabulary (btw some word originating from german), his slang, his frequent use if verbing is so intensiv, so deep, und makes the story so fast.

But it is true, his last book is to extrem and there is nothing new in it.

I don't know many books in two different languages, so I can not really help you. I know some excerpts from Pelecanos "The sweet forever", also a book written in a language to accelerate the story. The German translator worked hard and the result seems as good as it can be, but still, the German version is slower. This kind of verbing has an incredible power. It is not known in German.

Pieke Biermann, one of the very best German crime writer (see tomorrow the other posting) translated three of Walter Mosleys books. She chose to use the dialect used in Berlin for the afro american slang. Not all German readers liked it, but it is a way I think.

August 09, 2007  
Blogger Peter said...

Thanks for reminding me of Pieke Biermann. At least one of her novels has been translated into English, as Violetta. I looked for her work once, and I think I'll renew the search today.

Her choice of Berlin dialect is a good example of what I mean. How does a translator decide to reproduce something that cannot be reproduced literally? Years ago, I remember a critic of rock music writing that it would be difficult to sing punk rock in French because that language has so few harsh, guttural sounds. But a translator has to find a way to reproduce the effect even in a language that may not be hospitable to such effects.

And maybe I'll read some Ellroy or Pelecanos. Many people have recommended Pelecanos, and it may be time for me follow the recommendations.

August 09, 2007  
Anonymous krimileser said...

Concerning Biermann: As far as I can see only "Violetta" was translated. If I recall it correctly, she was not happy with the translation.
(Her books would be rather difficult to translate.)

August 09, 2007  
Blogger Peter said...

Violetta has an interesting opening in English translation, some eye-catching storm imagery. Why would her work be difficult to translate, and why was she unhappy with the translation?

August 09, 2007  
Anonymous krimileser said...

As I wrote before, Biermann is one of the best: This year she was one of the main topics of the "Deutsche Krimijahrbuch". She uses a lot of Berlin dialect. Even some German reader have problems understanding it (but that might be due to the different typeface). If I find a link with Biermanns opinion I will send it so you.

August 10, 2007  
Blogger Peter said...

Thanks. I'm again looking for a copy of Violetta. Whatever Biermann's complaints may be, I presume she understands that writing in dialect can pose special problems for any translator.

Stephen Sartarelli's English translations of Andrea Camilleri and Mike Mitchell's translations of Friedrich Glauser come up with creative solutions to problems posed by dialect and by characters who speak their languages badly.

August 10, 2007  

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