Friday, February 24, 2012

Amateurish prose

I'm between books, browsing, reading a few pages, picking them up, putting them down, and I'm also busy with non-blog matters. So you'll have to bear with a few random observations for a day or two.

Among the book pick-ups is a Japanese crime novel that I put down quickly because of slack prose in the English translation, e.g., "The guy fell back and lay sprawled on the ground, motionless, like the letter X." At the very least, the letter was unnecessary. Readers don't need to be told X is a letter. And lay is the wrong verb for an action scene.

I know neither Japanese not any other works by the author, so I can't guess at the reason for lapses. But I'm reminded again that a translator is not just a translator but also a writer, with all the demands that entails. If the original lags, the translator should have made it better.

© Peter Rozovsky 2012

Labels: ,

15 Comments:

Blogger seana said...

Falling back and lying on the ground like an X is a pretty funny image, though. It seems like something out of a comic book.

February 24, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Well, this scene is not comic in the least. But you can see the image the author wants: the guy was knocked flat, his arms and legs thrust out in an X.

February 24, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I typed just the first v-word, and my comment would not post. I got two more words, typed the second without typing the first, and my comment appeared.

February 24, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

It had not occurred to me that the author may have intended the X as a comic. Perhaps the image comes across as deadpan humorous in the original.

February 24, 2012  
Anonymous I.J.Parker said...

There must be worse prose than that.
But quite right about translators. I've seen some bad translations of Scandinavian novels.

I gather Blogger is responsible for the robot test. I was blaming it on you.

February 24, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I told you the new security measures were not my fault. It's a Blogger thing.

That prose was not horrible; it was flat. And flat prose is deadly in crime fiction, especially in a action scenes. There have also been good translations of Nordic crime novels. Those by Don Bartlett and the late Bernard Scudder come to mind.

February 24, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I wonder if I'll ever read a translated novel and conclude that it was a good translation of a bad book.

February 24, 2012  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

Maybe in the Japanese version he fell backwards and assumed the shape of a Chinese character which would be quite interesting.

February 25, 2012  
Blogger Photographe à Dublin said...

X marks the spot?

Many thanks for making me laugh. The Bronte sisters read poorly written novels as an exercise in how to do better, it seems?

Perhaps in context the phrase is less grammatically offensive?

And as an antidote to your current state of shock, this may work:

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/SherlockHolmes

February 25, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Adrian: Yes, a Chinese character whose ideological and cultural overtones are so nuanced as to be untranslatable and thus best rendered into English as "X" -- or rather "the letter X," lest readers in English mistake it for "the number X" or "the Christian religious symbol X."

February 25, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Maria, I suspect that the X has no symbolic overtones. The author had the good idea of having the protagonist notice the amusing figure of his attacker sprawled like an X. But the clunky prose cancels out the humorous effect.

February 25, 2012  
Blogger Tales from the Birch Wood. said...

It's possible that the wit sparkles more in Japanese?

I once tried to have a friend explain what makes Japanese people laugh. The examples did not transfer easily.

Back on surer ground, I thought you might like this French site:

"http://the-inn-at-lambton.cultureforum.net/f60-polars-arnaques-crimes-et-arsenic"

February 27, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Jane Austen and crime. That could be fun. Thanks.

February 27, 2012  
Blogger Kevin McCarthy said...

Was the book The Devotion of Suspect X, by Keigo Higashino? In that case, the X...! I have it here but haven't read it yet. I lived in Japan for five years--my wife and met there while teaching English--and I try to keep up as much as I can with Japanese fiction of all genres. There seems to be an attempt at the moment to do a Scandinavia with Japanese crime fic and this has led to the publication of some fairly ropey stuff. That said, Out, by Kirino Natsuo, is one of the best crime novels i've ever read. Villain, by Yoshida Shuichi, I read recently, is also very good.

March 06, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

OK. let's try this one last time:

Kevin: No, it was a different book, though I can't remember which one; I'm not at home now to check.

Seicho Matsumoto was one of the first crime writers I read when I started reading this international stuff. I also read a story by 江戸川 乱歩, whom readers may know as Edogowa Ranpo, in an anthology, and I loved it, a wonderfully atmospheric but thoroughly contemporary trafitional mystery.

March 06, 2012  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home