(Not) lost in translation – Nesbo v Knausgaard

OK, so I recently reviewed the new Jo Nesbo book, Phantom, for The Independent on Sunday. You can read that review here. The basic gist was that the guy can do plot, but some of the line-by-line prose was truly horrible. I noticed that Ian Rankin said something similar on The Review Show at the weekend there. He also, like me, mentioned that the book was basically Jason Bourne in Norwegian cop disguise. Great minds, and all that.

Ian said on the show that the prose thing might be a case of being ‘lost in translation’, which is generous to Nesbo, but a double-edged sword, as I’m sure Don Bartlett, who translated the book into English, doesn’t like the implication that his work was shonky.

Anyway, I then read Karl Ove Knausgaard’s memoir-novel A Death in the Family, reviewing for The Big Issue magazine. Same publisher, same translator from Norwegian to English. And some of the line-by-line prose is simply stunning – beautiful and lyrical yet without losing an ounce of clarity or vision. A really classy piece of writing.

Of course, it’s impossible to really tell without knowing both languages fluently, but my hunch is that Bartlett is probably a very fine translator, and that perhaps in the case of Nesbo, his source material wasn’t, ahem, what it could’ve been. I’m guessing, of course. If that was the case, that must be incredibly frustrating as a translator.

Aye so, this is just an observation, really. Any thoughts, throw them at me. Go on.

I’m off to learn Norwegian.

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About doug johnstone

I like whisky
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One Response to (Not) lost in translation – Nesbo v Knausgaard

  1. l1sm says:

    There was a free Jo Nesbo iBook as part of the iTunes Store’s “12 Days of Christmas” feature, so I downloaded it.

    Oh. Dear. God.

    I made it through about twenty pages. I still have no clue what it was supposed to be about.

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