The Governesses by Anne Serre | Translated by Mark Hutchinson | Les Fugitives
Published 25 March, 2019 | PB 120 pages ISBN 978-978-0993009396
“Experience had shown you, however, that no pact lasts forever. You knew that the members of the household would once again be shuffled together like playing cards, and that when the next hand was dealt the alliances would fall out differently.”
The Governesses is a most unusual erotic fable about sex and power, illusion and eroticism, beautifully translated from the French into supremely elegant, languid prose. Its atmosphere is reminiscent of Alain Fournier and Julien Green.
Inès, Laura and Eléonore are governesses, responsible for four boys. The “mistresses of games and pleasure” they radiate a wild and frisky innocence, and have the run of the upstairs salons in the country house of Monsieur Austeur and his wife, Julie. “The excessive silence of the households they wait upon” may be “conducive to reading thinking and raising little boys who are champion hoop rollers, and to the elderly gentleman’s repose, and the waning love of Monsieur and Madame Auster,” but it is stultifying. Their employers’ home is “a boundless void.” The young women have nowhere to go, and there are no distractions.Continue reading Book 2 Review | The Governesses, Anne Serre & Now, Now Louison, Jean Frémon | Les Fugitives
Celebrating this year’s Chinese New Year of the Pig, I discuss translating China with Nicky Harman on the launch of Paper Republic’s roundup of the most recent publications in English translation. Their 2018 roll call features thirty-three novels, six poetry collections and three YA and children’s books.
Paper Republic is a unique resource you won’t find anywhere else on the web. Its co-founder, Nicky Harman, is a leading light of the translation community in the UK and a passionate promoter of Chinese literature and culture. She is co-Chair of the Translators Association (Society of Authors). Nicky is often away, but I managed to catch up with her for brunch on Valentine’s day to discuss the literature of a non-English speaking continent that is 4,834 miles away from this small offshore island.
“Frank and Anna’s day was one of mixed fortunes. They chased a great brute of a fox down to Chelsea Harbour, finally cornering it in the underground car park, though not before several of the residents had been reduced to hysterics; then they were called to the other end of the King’s Road, where a vixen had slipped on to a bus, bringing the traffic to a standstill as the passengers poured out on to the road. The vixen had escaped in the confusion; by the time Frank and Anna appeared on the scene, she had vanished with a chicken stolen from the Cadogan Rôtisserie. ‘Call yourself a huntsman?’ the manager shouted at Frank. ‘That’s the third fox I’ve had in here this week.’ ‘Give them customer loyalty cards, mate,’ Frank replied cheerfully, ‘and don’t forget to ask for their addresses. We’ll catch them, roast them with some parsnips, and your clientele won’t know the difference.’”
What if . . . the British government struck a deal with the People’s Republic of China? And acquired new and ground-breaking technology enabling them to implant a surveillance microchip in every British citizen under the guise of having a routine injection against fox flu.
Where were you born and how did it feel to grow up between Ireland and England? I was in London until the age of ten, and then in Tipperary with school and university in England. Going backwards and forwards between the two during The Troubles didn’t feel comfortable at all. As a writer I’ve come to appreciate the advantages of not belonging entirely in one place – always having an outsider’s eye.
What did you read as a child? C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia; Kate Seredy’s The Good Master and The Singing Tree; John Buchan’s The 39 Steps; Geoffrey Willans and Ronald Searle’s Molesworth books
“Judging the Banipal Translation Prize was a most enriching experience. It reminded me that literature can be a force for good – no bad thing! We need to be shocked out of a comfortable complacency that suggests that books should not attempt to bring about social and political change. The entries provided no shortage of shocks.” Pete Ayrton, Chair of Judges, the Saif Ghobash-Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation.
The Man Booker International, the IMPAC Award, English PEN’s Writers in Translation Programme* and the Society of Authors’ series of prizes for outstanding literary translations from works in Arabic, Dutch, French, German, Italian, Spanish and Swedish are the leaders of the prize-giving pack.
As we head out of the old, into the new, year, our top 10 reads to see us out feature superb writing from China, fin-de-siècle Paris, the Middle East, Istanbul by way of New York, Switzerland and Cuba, in no particular order. @maclehosepress @carcanet @BanipalMagazine @melvillehouse @dedalusbooks @NBNi_books @hoperoadpublish @oneworldnews @jamiebulloch @PennedintheM
A Hero Born: Legends of the Condor Heroes (Vol. 1) by Jin Young, trs. Anna Holmwood (MacLehose Press) buy here
The author Louis Cha who died aged ninety-four on 30 October, wrote under the pen name Jin Yong. His books have sold more than 300 million copies worldwide and been adapted into countless films, TV series, graphic novels and video games. His works are all set during the rich and storied history of China. The first English translation of A Hero Born, the first of his 12-volume epic Legends of the Condor Heroes, was published earlier on this year by MacLehose Press. We include him here as a tribute to an unparalleled master storyteller. Continue reading BookBlasts® | Top 10 Reads for Independent Minds | November-December 2018
The Book of Birmingham is the latest title to be published by Comma Press in their cities in short fiction series which serves as an excellent introduction to some superb contemporary writers. The ultimate in armchair city tours, the series is ideal for discovering other places, other lives.
The Book of Birmingham – focusing on the second largest city in the UK after London which “sits atthe central crossroads of England, the industrial heartland of the country” – brings together short stories by some writers known to me, (Kit de Waal, Bobby Nayyar, C.D. Rose, Sharon Duggal, Kavita Bhanot), and some not, (Sibyl Ruth, Malachi McIntosh, Joel Lane, Jendella Benson, Alan Beard, Balvinder Banga). The city’s “working-class foundation is inseparable from the city’s literature, reflected in the voices of its best-known contemporary authors: Jonathan Coe, Catherine O’Flynn, Benjamin Zephaniah, Kit de Waal, Joel Lane . . .”
We live in an increasingly polarised mad and maddening world seemingly going from bad to worse. The hunger for “how to be happy” and “how to achieve more success in life” top tips type reading fodder is countered by our apparent preference for bad news over the good, (motivated by schadenfreude, a heightened vigilance for threats thanks to a daily Media diet of disasters, shock value . . . or so the thinking goes).
If it bleeds, it leads
Sam Jordison’s series Crap Towns became a cult hit. Now he has pulled another winner out of his hat – The 10 Worst of Everything: The Big Book of Bad. It is an entertaining and thoroughly-researched book of alternative general knowledge. Factual and informative lists ranging across the natural world, history, popular culture, sports, food, medicine, science, economics, politics, drugs, divorce and crystal-ball gazing balls-ups are seasoned with tongue-in-cheek personal asides. It is a particularly cheering read if your own life is in the doldrums, or for some Christmas fun and games. So quiz each other and laugh when no one knows the answers: there is invariably someone worse off than you! Continue reading Review | The 10 Worst of Everything: The Big Book of Bad, Sam Jordison | Book of the Week