"Set back on the left, is a huge social housing block, at least ten storeys high, with a flat, uniform façade, the very worst of urban architecture, typical of the unbridled renovation of the Belleville district begun back in the 1970s."In each case, I regard the boldface portion as less than perfect English. Them is plural, Sting notwithstanding. Your is jarring in a passage otherwise entirely in third person. The apartment block's description is wordier than I'd have expected for a setting the author clearly wants us to regard as grim and stark.
Blame may lie with the inevitable differences between two languages, differences unbridgeable by literal translation. Proper French would not permit a mismatch of number like that person's ... them, and French writers concerned with such matters presumably find other ways to fight sexism. In some politically correct quarters, however, English does permit such mismatches. French also has the impersonal pronoun on, whose English counterpart, one, sounds stilted these days, especially in North American English. In general, French is more comfortable with impersonal sentences than English is.
French readers and authors may also find terseness less essential to hard-boiled writing than their North American counterparts do. I'd have done less telling and more terse showing in describing the Belleville apartment block.
This is no knock on the translators, Amanda Hopkinson and Ros Schwartz, just a reminder of the many masters the translator must serve: accuracy, readability, fidelity to the author and to the host and target languages.
Manotti's cool depiction of France's political, business, security and journalistic elites gives chilling new life to the concept of decadence. She also writes with unsentimental compassion of those manipulated, sometimes fatally so, by the elites, and she juxtaposes her depictions of high and low to suspenseful effect.
© Peter Rozovsky 2011