Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Hollywood ennui with British elan, plus a question for readers

Last week's "Noir but not crime" post elicited the gift from a friend of Alfred Hayes' 1958 novel My Face for the World to See, and indeed, the book's protagonist suffers from the jaded weariness, a disgust with fame and material goods but tempered by inertia frequent in American writing of the time (though nowhere near as wince-makingly so as some books from the period can seem all these decades later.)

But what has surprised me most is that the narrator/protagonist (a screenwriter in, naturally, Hollywood) leavens the self-absorbed disgust with a witty detachment. That makes the book seem American and English at the same time, and I like to think I'd have made that observation even if I had not learned shortly before beginning the book that Hayes had been been born in England but came to the United States as a child.

He went on to work on a number of notable movies in the U.S. and Europe, so he presumably wrote with some knowledge of the ennui that Hollywood success can induce, but he writes about it with more wit that I'd have expected.

My Face for the World to See's noir-but-not-crime credentials received a fine double-barreled boost when Nelson Algren called it "The most vivid picture of Hollywood since Nathanael West’s Day of the Locust."

While I go read more, what books have you read that seem both American and English (or otherwise European) at the same time? What makes them seem that way?

© Peter Rozovsky 2014

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Being an ex-pat Brit in America, I can't help writing this way, half-English and half-American. I try as a translator to simply choose the best idiom, but there are many problems and pitfalls. Not least that Americanisms annoy Brits and vice versa. I believe that if I do it right, the fact that a novel is supposed to take place in France may help American readers as it were suspend disbelief and let the exotic British terms merely reinforce the sense of "European-ness." But I'm probably dreaming! It's a very vexed question! My readers are anywhere in the Anglophone world, so every sentence is a judgment call...

Donald Nicholson-Smith

July 29, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

With Hayes, though, the "Britishness" is much less a matter of idioms than it is of a tone that I can't define other than to say that it embodies an ironic detachment that I think of as more English than American. I have never found British idioms obtrusive.

I should say that I count myself among your readers. I have read your Manchette translations, the most recent of which got me interested in the Situationists, so I may wind up reading your work on Guy Debord as well. Since I rank Manchette among the greatest of crime writers, your translations apparently work. I am honored by your presence at Detectives Beyond Borders.

I have interviewed Sian Reynolds, Stephen Sartarelli, and Mike Mitchell on this blog, and Howard Curtis has posted a comment or two. Translation has interested me for some time. I shall keep this question of tone in mind for future interviews.

July 29, 2014  
Blogger Unknown said...

Henry James is always riding the fence. Is he American, or is he British? In either case, to my taste, he remains nearly unreadable except in the short story and novella forms.

July 29, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Soon after I put up the post, the novel's tone took a harsher turn. It's now more Embittered Hollywood than Disillusioned Mid-Century American. But it's impressive so far, especially against a background of some of what I've been reading in Kevin Starr's histories of California.

July 29, 2014  

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