I’m picking off two more of my Novellas in November and two more from my TBR Challenge as well today as I hack resolutely through my reviewing backlog (four more to go after this!). Also look out for another Book Serendipity moment at the end! I’ve also managed to fit in with the Novellas in November theme this week of Books in Translation – well, sort of, with a book ABOUT translation.

Anthony Ferner – “Life in Translation”

(26 February 2021 – from Kaggsy)

I make sure people know I’m a translator, not an interpreter. Interpreters are the flashy ones at conferences or meetings of heads of state, who translate on the hoof: the adrenaline junkies, high-wire artists, prima donnas. The larger the auditorium the better they like it. Whereas the translators are the backroom boys and girls of the language world. (p. 9)

Along with the Charlie Hill, this one came from Kaggsysbookishramblings earlier this year – thank you!

In this book, described as picaresque, which I can see, as our hero rambles around the world, having encounters and meeting odd people again and again, we travel from South America to London to Europe, seeing our hero learning the art of translation then working as a jobbing translator, notably coming up against machine translation at one point, and working in a Kafkaesque nightmare of a translation agency, coming up against enemies and meeting friends, working on a translation of a novel he will never finish. He’s engaging but pretty bad with women, and he lets lots of people down, but you do find your sympathies with him. It reminded me of David Lodge’s early campus novels with all the travel and naughtiness around conferences, and of Anthony Powell’s “Dance to the Music of Time” with the interweaving of encounters with the same people in different places.

The discussions on translation are very interesting, especially when a radical scholar proposes that the translator should change the text to find new meanings, as opposed to being wedded to the overt meaning of the text; this seems to tie in with my adherence to reception theory, that the reader creates the text, except here I am not that keen on, for example, putting a feminist slant onto a translation of a misogynist writer – shouldn’t his sins be presented to the world as is?

This was published by indie publisher Holland Park Press, who specialise in English literary fiction and poetry and translations of Dutch classics.

Heaven-Ali’s review of this book is here.

Katharine D’Souza – “Friend Indeed: A Novella”

(26 November 2020)

She has to be at this event though. This needs all three of us and the date has been set since we turned sixteen. It was a pact: three people, three ambitions, three promises. It’s time to finish what we started and I, for one, will be dressed for success. (p. 2)

This is a pretty short book and very plot-driven and sharp, so it’s hard to review without giving stuff away. We meet three friends who encounter each other at school and form a pact to meet up at various intervals through their lives. Jane, our (unreliable) narrator, seems the most put-together and approachable, neither a boring 80s retro housewife or a bitchy newspaper columnist, but as events wind up to their big birthday meetup in London – their 50th, and I have to say I’m glad I don’t have any such arrangements with any friends having read this! – her life and her narrative start to spiral apart.

I loved the Birmingham and 1980s and 1990s setting, of course, with details of school and work life. The book is full os twists and surprises and telling little details. But I did miss d’Souza’s long-form work and her room to stretch and expand, and hope there will be another full novel soon. You can find out about her books here.


This was TBR Challenge 2021-22 Books 13 and 14/85 – 71 to go – and they were Book 7 and 8 in my Novellas in November challenge

In another Bookish Beck serendipity moment, these two books featured a very loose episodic structure, jumping between sort of glimpses and moments, which was also a feature of Charlie Hill’s “I Don’t Want to go to the Taj Mahal“ and Anne Tyler’s “Clock Dance”, which I’m reviewing tomorrow. In addition, the central characters of both of these books reviewed here start out in Birmingham, with mention of the train to Selly Oak in “Life in Translation”.