Revenge of the Translator by Brice Matthieussent, translated by Emma Ramadan

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A translated work from French author, Brice Matthieussent, Revenge of the Translator follows Trad as he translates a novel from French to English. We dive into the book in an unusual place—the footnotes. Here, below the mysterious text, the translator begins by justifying his changes until he slowly takes over the book.

I picked up this book, which I read for book club, knowing it would be a bit of a departure from my usual choices. It’s meta (a translated book about a translator taking over a book), it focuses heavily on form, and it serves as a commentary on a topic I don’t know a lot about—translation.  But, nonetheless, I excitedly dove in and I loved the first one hundred pages. It is so joyful to read a book unlike anything you’ve read before, and this book absolutely falls into that category. The narrator, aka our translator, reads as a skulking, bitter creature attempting to overtake the original story, written by Abel Prote, due to his professional unrest. The characterization is artistic and it uniquely allows you to sympathize with his situation while also being turned off by his actions. Trad leaves a lot of space for a reader to ruminate on artistic license and credit in the field of literary translation.

We are also privy to the most delightful cast of literary devices throughout Revenge of the Translator. Our main character acknowledges that even though he feels he is improving the original author’s writing and the story itself through his translation, he doesn’t feel capable of escaping the translation and writing his own novel. If a reader dives deeper into Trad’s current of self-doubt, they will come out holding the mysterious author’s name: Abel Prote. Even in name, the author of the work Trad is translating is superior; the author is literally “able” to write this book where the translator feels he is not.

Additionally, this book plays with form in the most exciting ways. Written under the footer line for a majority of the novel, we feel the physical limits the translator is describing and we are able to feel his liberation when the footer line disappears. Interestingly, even when the translator breaks free he still leaves space for a translator to add a line and write below. He can never truly let go of his insecurities or his profession. There are so many more literary devices I could talk about, but I’ll leave some for you to discover!

In my opinion, this book would have worked perfectly as a short story. After the first 100 pages, I found that the story wasn’t grabbing me anymore. The two men essentially squabble over a fierce woman, who has each of them wrapped around her finger, while taking each other on in battles of wit. However, the form had already been established, the literary devices had been executed, and the middle part, to me, bogged down the takeaway about a translator’s role in a novel and diluted the punch of the book as a whole.

Overall? Definitely worth the read for the journey down the path a translator’s path, for the stellar literary devices, and for the overall unusual experience. A great book club choice!

PUBLICATION DETAILS: Deep Vellum Publishing; October 2, 2018; 9781941920695; Fiction -> Translation