Sunday, September 14, 2014

Three early comments on James Ellroy's Pefidia

Three early comments on James Ellroy's Pefidia:
  1. A pointed stick used to find water is a dowsing rod, not dousing. (pg. 137) 
  2. One who objects to doing something is averse to it, not adverse. (pg. 385) 
  3. I enjoy the novel's jabs at the 1940s Hollywood Left, through the pen of Kay Lake, one of the novel's four central figures and, in her way, a thematic carryover from Ellroy's previous novel, Blood's A Rover:

    "The tall Negro with the huge basso. The Broadway showstopper-cum-slaves' lament. The dilettante leftists. The wayward girl from Sioux Falls. The unhinged police captain.

    "I giggled.

    "...A Princeton-educated Negro extolled class revolt; a frail woman with runs in her stockings strummed an oversize lute. I laughed and covered my mouth. The dowager whispered,
    Be still, child.'"

    Come to think of it, that's less a jab at the Left than a snapshot of an all-around insane period in American history (December 1941).
And here's a fine version of the song that gave the novel its title.

© Peter Rozovsky 2014

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33 Comments:

Blogger seana graham said...

Giggle is an odd word. I noticed it here because I am slogging my way through a long and not exactly fast paced Swedish mystery called Between Summer's End and Winter's Longing, and at one point one of the characters gets invovlved to a degree with an American woman. Pretty much every third time she's mentioned, she giggles. It's very jarring, because I can't quite figure out if it's the translation or the original that is the problem. Maybe the Swedish word is something like giggle and also not.It seems like an odd thing for an otherwise serious and mature woman to do so frequently.

In your example, it's only once, and maybe okay.

September 14, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I think giggle occurs one other time in Ellroy's passage, and to good advantage. He conveys very nicely the suggestion of the character trying and failing to stifle her reaction to a ridiculous situation. Ellroy appears to be a very much better writer than Leif GW Persson, Persson's translator, or both.

If the Swedish word for laugh is something like giggle, then the translator has a tin ear and did not do his job. Otherwise the writer is at fault (unless, of course, there is some valid narrative reason for the woman to giggle rather than merely laugh.)

As it happens, I once speculated about the possibility of similar translation misdeeds in a Norwegian crime movel that I liked otherwise.

September 14, 2014  
Blogger seana graham said...

Yes, if I ever read 1222 it will be in spite of that.

It's funny, but I can see Ellroy himself giggling, but it would have a very different meaning if he did and probably a fiendish or lugubrious one.

I've read more of Persson's book since posting in, and since then he has gone home to Sweden, met another woman, and had her giggle at him too. Luckily she only does it once. I think I understand what's trying to be expressed, a charming, feminine laugh, but it is not coming off.

September 14, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

A malevolent giggle, mostly for show. I'm supposed to go hear Ellroy at the Mysterious Bookshop this week. I'll let you know if he giggles.

I should add cultural differences to bad writing and bad translation as possible causes for those off-putting giggles. Maybe such behavior simple signifies something different in Sweden. I can't remember too much in the way of laughter or giggles in the Swedish crime fiction I've read. (I don't know of any Swedish crime writers who plan to attend Bouchercon, but I might be able to buttonhole an odd Dane or Icelander.)

September 14, 2014  
Blogger seana graham said...

Yes, it's possible that what Persson is trying to describe registers differently in Sweden.

It's odd about Persson's skill as a writer, because although I often have thought that the rendition could be better, in fact, you do somehow get a sense of the characters he's trying to evoke, almost in spite of himself. So he's rendered this giggling American woman effectively, despite her supposed giggling.

September 14, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Add it speaks well of Persson that he takes his book's subtitle from Sjowall and Wahloo's Martin Beck novels (though I have just discovered that they may have taken the subtitle from a Russian source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Story_of_a_Crime)

September 14, 2014  
Blogger seana graham said...

I think I persist not because of his novelistic talents but because he knows a lot about his subject.

September 14, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

What is his subject, for when a squeeze in some time amid Ellroy, postwar Europe, and Bouchercon preparation?

September 15, 2014  
Blogger seana graham said...

Apparently, he is Sweden's leading criminologist. I got a bit bogged down in his description of the Swedish security system, but I trust him in the details.

September 15, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I wonder what made him decide to write fiction. The thought of grabbing some Larssonian cash, perhaps.

September 15, 2014  
Blogger seana graham said...

Well, we don't have to be cynical. Apparently this all has something to do with the real life assassination of Olaf Palme.
He may have thought that this was a good way to get the word out. I think it's more a problem of pacing than anything else.

I like his mention of a dogged individual called Persson who adds to the investigations. It's not a flattering self portrait, which I was looking for.

September 15, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I didn't mean to be cynical, really, I do relish the prospect of finding out how the Swedish system works. I rather enjoyed S. Larsson's acid comments about Sweidh journalism (though Dragon Tattoo made no attempt to back those up), so I don't mind a glimpse at how my Nordic friends operate.

September 15, 2014  
Blogger Philip Amos said...

Translation can sometimes be all, and I am reminded of an experience re this that so infuriated me that it caused me to be all over my preferred crime fiction blogs like a cheap suit. Helene Tursten's Irene Huss series is of the first water, and making that clear was greatly helped by having Steven T. Murray as translator of the first to appear in English. Ne plus ultra. But the next to appear...a different translator, one not seen by me since, thank God, who may well have been the reason behind the announcement that no more Tursten would appear in English, at least not from Soho Press. Never, never have I encountered a translation of anything as atrocious as that translation. There were phrases that one could only describe as bizarre. And again, I contemplated the near-total demise of the true editors, for there were horrors in this book that could not possibly have got past one. That was, incidentally, the same question I mulled in the wake of Larsson's trilogy, not because of translation, but because the first volume most of all cried out for form and structure. I thought it unhappy indeed that the author was often blamed for what was, in fact, caused by his death and no due diligence whatever on the part of the original publisher.

Happily, that one Tursten disaster was the last we saw of...that translator, a new one appeared, and Soho took Tursten up again. But one thing of which I am convinced: the odds are heavily weighted in favour of the best translations coming from those whose first language is the one they are translating into, not from.

As for Ellroy's 'dousing' and 'adverse'...for the sake of my sanity, I've had to try to ignore this stuff or cast the book in question aside. Odd, because it did go through my mind just a day or so ago when something or other 'careened' in the NY Times when it should have 'careered'. There's an editor at that rapidly declining intelligencer I'd dearly like to careen, and with a very rusty blade. "Oh, fusty Philip," people do say. "Language has always changed, meanings changed." Well, yes, I had noticed. But not in such a way that every time the semi-educated (i.e., those with undergraduate and often graduate degrees) misuse a word, the word they should have used rapidly disappears from the vocabulary. Very rapidly in the age of the internet. Is there some alternative to our vocabulary in all its richness careering into oblivion? Whoops!! I must translate that into 'modern' English: is there some alternate to our vocabulary careening into oblivion? Damn, that's still not right, for does not everyone now know that to be oblivious is to be unaware, not forgetful of a thing?

September 15, 2014  
Blogger seana graham said...

Philip, I have a certain fondness for the word careen, due to the fact that I did a blog post about it a few years ago.

September 15, 2014  
Blogger Philip Amos said...

Delightful post and discussion, Seana. Thank you. And indirectly thanks to Adrian, who mentioned in a comment the very crime novels about a certain dog named Randolph that I'd been racking my brain trying to recall this morning. I was a touch leery of the first of the Randolph novels myself, but it took me but a few pages to become enchanted.

September 15, 2014  
Blogger seana graham said...

I think it was actually Peter who first brought Randolph and his human to our attention at that time, Philip. So it's come full circle.

September 15, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Philip, oddly enough, I liked the third of Tursten's books to be translated into English better than I liked the first, though entirely for reasons to do with her plotting of the story.

Like many, i thought the first novel in the Larsson trilogy (also translated by Steven T. Murray, though under the name Reg Keeland) could have used some editing. Scuttlebutt has it that the book did not get the editing it would have received had the author been alive when it was published. One might thing a dead author more, rather than less susceptible of editing, but the publishing business is a mystery.

I wish Ellroy had not misused those words. And I wish his editors would have caught the mistake. (The book is issued by a major publisher, and my copy was a finished one bought in a shop, not an uncopyedited galley.) But I was able to ignore the mistakes because of the quality of the writing that surrounded them. Moreover, later in the novel, set in 1941, he repeatedly uses a slang word that was not recorded until decades later and was very much characteristic of the 1960s. But this did not bother me because the word was both apt for the milieu Ellroy describes, and thoroughly in keeping with Ellroy's style. On the other hand, I once cast aside a novel set in 1953 that used the word on its first page. Unlike Ellroy, that author failed to set the scene for her jarring verbal anachronism.

As for words misused by those of dubious literacy and education, I am a newspaper copy editor.

September 15, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana, I had known that to careen meant to lean to one side, but I had not known its nautical connection.

September 15, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

The New York Times' increasing abandonment of literacy makes its occasional reversions to fuss-budgetry all the more delightful. I remember a defense in the name of usage and tradition--by the copy editor in charge of style matters, no less--of the Times' refusal to allow the word "tweet" (for postings on Twitter) that misused convince for persuade. The poor Times just can't get it right.

September 15, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

J.F. Englert is the author of the Randolph novels. I, too, was surprised that I very much enjoyed them.

September 15, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

n that capacity, I have often changed careen to career. Correcting bad usage and outright errors is a small but consoling act of revenge upon both the illiterates who make the mistakes and the exhausted bosses who, in the name of expediency and in the face of declining resources, decree that the mistakes are now permissible style. It would take a Gogol or a Kafka to adequately convey the idiocy of my newspaper's policy on dumpster.

September 15, 2014  
Blogger Philip Amos said...

A word about Persson. I too found Between Summer's End...a bit of a slog, but I first picked it up and then persevered because of a very positive review by Petrona, i.e., Maxine Clarke, who, apart from being Executive Editor of Nature, in one respect the most vital of science journals, was a voracious reader of crime fiction. She died getting on for two years ago and in that event we lost one of the dearest of people. I am still a little haunted by the fact that, as I learnt from a mutual friend, she asked about my own health problems the week she died. Very happily, she is still with us in the form of the Petrona Award and in that her blog remains as PetronaRemembered, a fine crime fiction resource.

Forgive that detour, but I can never just mention Maxine in passing. But the point is that she recommended the book. Why did he write it? I think a little speculation on my part here might pique your interest further, Peter. I thought it significant that there was something of a furore when he criticized Camilla Lackberg for using her sex appeal to sell books. Two things. First, I had just read Lackberg's Ice Princess and was appalled. I thought it a bad novel, and in particular by having her female detectives love life a parallel story, intrusive and, I thought, an attempt to lure readers of two genres. It was half a romance novel bordering on Harlequin Chicklit.

Secondly, Persson's pretty fearsome attack was, I think, because he takes crime 'fiction' very seriously indeed, much a S. Larsson did. He was the criminologist on the Swedish Police Board for exactly twenty years, fired when he blew the whistle on the Justice Minister, who was much involved in a prostitution ring.

To cut to the chase, I think that Persson came to see crime fiction as a way to 'get the word out' re the workings of Swedish institutions, and in the work in question, his own opinions about the assassination of Palme. The investigation of that murder smacked of Keystone Cops to me, much floundering around as the police 'felt the collars' of agents of South Africa, Yugoslavia, a renegade group of the KPP, et al.

And here, I think, one must remember Persson's background: a distinguished criminologist embedded for twenty years in the police force, fired for whistle-blowing. He zeroes in on Palme's early involvement with the CIA and later with the Soviets. This seems a touch far-fetched at first blush, but...leave us recall Francois Mitterand's political activities at the time of WWII. And, though certainly different in many ways, the transition of Tony Blair from Labour Party left-wing supporter of Michael Foot in 1983 to a PM more Thatcherite than Thatcher barely more than a decade later. I'm still trying to figure out that very strange man.

Such is my speculation as to Persson's view of crime fiction, and his own motivation in writing it. And mine for reading his works -- I want to know what he has to say about such events and how Swedish forces deal with them.

September 16, 2014  
Blogger seana graham said...

Thank you, Philip. I haven't known the context although you can piece much of it out from the book. It does seem worth persevering with, although I feel like I've been reading it forever. I think he doesn't have a natural gift for pacing, and there's a lot of thinking about what other people are thinking and deciding not to do something and then changing your mind, etc. It's not your typical commercial fiction. And I have to sigh a bit to realize that it's just the first of a trilogy.

Sweden looks very different than it did before I started reading its crime novels.


I didn't have any direct link to Petrona, but I remember when news of her death reached some of the blogs I read, and I am sorry that so many had to lose a good friend.

September 16, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Philip, I did not know he was a whistle-blower. That piques my interest. Your criticism of The Ice Princess is similar to mine of Detective Inspector Huss, the first of Helene Tursten's novels to be translated into English. That novel had a domestic subplot, too, though involving one of Irene Huss' children, not her love life. The key word is parallel. The subplot paralleled the main plot too perfectly, brought to an equal degree of resolution. The complete lack of subordination introduced a decided monotony to the book. By The Glass Devil, the domestic subplot is subordinated, and not entirely resolved, to the novel's decided advantage.

September 16, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana, maybe that lack of pacing is due to his not being a natural writer, to his having come late to the profession.

You may remember my mentioning after Maxine died that she posted the very first comment ever at Detectives Beyond Borders, and that my first meeting with her was over lunch in the cafeteria at the British Library.

September 16, 2014  
Blogger david hartzog said...

I just finished Perfidia and thought it pretty lame, slow and repetitive, it just did not have the style or texture of the compelling LA Quartet. I could say the same about Persson' stuff, but I've only read a couple of his. I like Lackberg, but she is hit or miss.

September 17, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

OK, let's see if my piece-of-shit connection will let me post this on my third try.

David, Perfidia (and Blood's a Rover, for that matter) are certainly not as stylistically wild The Cold Six Thousand and American Tabloid. But I think he's up to something different in those more recent books.

I heard him read this evening, and he had some interesting things to see about the LA Quartet, the Underworld USA trilogy, and this new, second LA Quartet. I'll probably put a blog post on the subject tomorrow.

September 18, 2014  
Blogger seana graham said...

Good, you did go. I look forward to your reportage.

September 18, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I got someone to take a nice photo of me and Ellroy which, with a bit of judicious doctoring, I turned into something I'm proud of. It's on Facebook now, and I'll put it up with tomorrow's blog post as well.

September 18, 2014  
Blogger seana graham said...

Great. I'm not on Facebook, so I hope you'll put it up here.

September 18, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

It's up now!

September 18, 2014  
Blogger seana graham said...

Very nice--in a two criminal masterminds meeting kind of way.

September 18, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Who's the other mastermind?

September 19, 2014  

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