Monday, January 9, 2023

Books Corner: Lost in Translation


   A neighbour has placed this bibliophile fox next to his Little Free Library. One of the nicest things to happen in local communities these past few years has been the proliferation of those wooden boxes on sticks where you can exchange books. Though second hand book shops probably aren't thanking them. My idea of heaven is sunshine, coffee and a good thriller, preferably a good British thriller. And you can get a lot of those here from libraries little and large.

  There is, however a fly in the ointment. As I've complained before in these pages, there are few things more calculated to bring out my latent Disgusted, Tunbridge Wells syndrome than British books republished in American translations. 

  A recent example is The Appeal, by Janice Hallett. British author, British characters, book set in Britain. It's a clever novel, based entirely on emails and texts between the various protagonists and I was enjoying it when I noticed something odd. The amounts in the charity appeal on which the story is based were written in dollars. Dollars? Surely even the dimmest reader would understand that the Brits do things in pounds. And then, horror of horrors, a character faced with an emergency dialled "911". In Britain. That wouldn't get them very far, except perhaps to the mortuary. I had already encountered this same atrocity in a previous British book and had a friendly correspondence with the author, who said it exasperated her just as much as it did me but she was powerless to do anything. The American publisher insisted on it. 

  I note that Philip Pullman had a rant about this in the Times the other day. I hope someone takes notice  but if a writer of his stature can't do anything about it, I wonder who can. Perhaps it's up to American readers (and I haven't met a single one who approves of the practice) to put their collective feet down. After all it's nothing other than insulting. Do the publishers think Americans are stupid or what? Note that it doesn't happen the other way around. When I was a child I happily read American books like Little House on the Prairie and What Katy Did, which were full of American words. I understood them perfectly well and it was a good learning experience. Yes, America has different words for things. Interesting. 

If you read a book set in another country you might just want to know how people there speak and not be confused by artificial mid-Atlantic mish-mash.

 The American translations I've found  infiltrating British books include "football shoe", "row house", "baby carriage",  "drapes", "dollhouse" and "garbage can" (although they forgot to change it from "dustbin" again further on) and that's just what I scribbled onto a bookmark in one reading session.

If I was back living in London I could get the good old original British edition from the library. But not here.

Why? I would dearly love an answer.

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