Books in Translation: In denial?

flagsA few posts back I reviewed Daniel Kehlmann’s F introducing it by saying I didn’t read as many translated books as I ought to. Claire from Word by Word pointed out in a comment that my previous post had been just that – Philippe Claudel’s Parfums – and that she knew I’d been reading Per Petterson’s I Refuse which I posted on later the same week. Three books in translation in a week – perhaps I was in denial. Not only that but I had This Should be Written in the Present Tense in the works as well. So what’s changed? Step forward Jacqui at Jacquiwine’s Journal and Claire, herself, not to mention sundry other individuals who fly an awful lot of flags for translated fiction in the blogosphere.

Time was that we in the UK had a lousy reputation for reading translated works. Very hard to shift in my bookselling days apart from the odd roaring success such as Peter Høeg’s Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow. It was Scandi crime fiction that upped the stakes considerably, although Simenon’s Inspector Maigret books have always sold steadily so perhaps crime readers are less blinkered than the rest of us. It could well be that the success of Jo Nesbø, Stieg Larsson, Arnaldur Indriðason, Karin Fossum et al has migrated to mainstream fiction although I’ve not noticed it in the bestseller lists. Any booksellers out there care to put me right?

11 thoughts on “Books in Translation: In denial?

    1. Susan Osborne Post author

      Not drawn to Mr Knausgaard, I’m afraid – too much struggling – although it certainly sounds as if you’re enjoying it!

      Reply
  1. naomifrisby

    Has Elena Ferrante not made the best seller lists yet? She’s certainly had plenty of coverage over the last couple of months – deservedly, I should add.

    I think the internet’s helped in terms of translated works – bloggers in particular reading and reviewing and tweeting.

    Reply
    1. Susan Osborne Post author

      Both up there, I’m sure, but still only a handful of titles. I suspect sales won’t rival the crime in translation brigade although the Jonasson was included in Waterstones and Smiths offers and will get a boost from the film, I’m sure.

      Reply
  2. Claire 'Word by Word'

    I think that readers are hearing about books from many more sources today than they did in the past and I’ve noticed that often when a particular translation is being chatted about on twitter, it often then manifests as media coverage. The Elena Ferrante books have gone from a word of mouth sensation to garnering wide media coverage and now the announcement of it being made into a film.

    Translations are also being helped by the specialist publishers like Peirene Press, publishing what they perceive as the best of European fiction novellas, making it much more accessible to readers and Gallic Books specialising in French translations.

    As a reader, I am certainly so much better informed now than I was in the days when I relied on the bookshop and the newspaper for finding out about upcoming books and it makes sense that people who are interested in travel/culture might also be interested in reading books that originate from within another culture.

    Reply
    1. Susan Osborne Post author

      All excellent points, Claire. For anyone who has had their interest in literature piqued by travel but hasn’t yet discovered them, a visit to Daunts who shelve everything, from fiction to cookbooks, by country is well worthwhile.

      Reply
  3. jacquiwine

    I agree with Claire’s comments, and the Elena Ferrante Neapolitan novels and Knausgaard’s six volume series are the ones that seem to have made the transition from word-of-mouth to mainstream coverage. And as Naomi has mentioned, bloggers and social media have helped to shine a light on translated lit. I’ve discovered so many books in translation by following a range of other bloggers, and everyone seems to uncover something different. Thanks for the mention!

    Reply
    1. Susan Osborne Post author

      You’re welcome, Jacqui, and thanks for the many recommendations. I think you’re right about the coverage but I suppose what I’d like to know is if that exposure translates (sorry!) into sales. I think I’ll have to quiz a few bookselling mates.

      Reply
  4. litlove

    Back in 2007 I attended a publishers’ panel at the local literary festival. I very melancholy male editor told us that the market share for translated books was less than 3% in the UK and hardly anyone was interested in reading them. I do love it when readers prove the statistics wrong. The more translated books we are offered – with a little publicity to ease the passage towards them – the more we’ll read and enjoy.

    Reply
    1. Susan Osborne Post author

      I’d love to know what the figures are now, although 2007 was well into Scandi-crime fever so I’m not sure how much has changed. There are certainly many knowledgeable bloggers out there spreading the word and I hope that will improve things.

      Reply

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