World Literature Weekend

So I went down to London this weekend for the Literature Weekend and had a really good time. The first night we went to see Kitty Garden play an acoustic set in a variety of languages. There was a great atmosphere- the venue was this little dark room off an alley that seemed very fitting. The next night Monooka’s Caravan played a more lively set. Led by a Romanian gypsy (who looked every inch the part), the band consisted of double bass, guitar and electric violin (who was incredible!) They did a mix of emotive ballads and some more energetic songs. There were also puppets. If you think I’m joking, I have proof.
It was really interesting to hear music in different languages, something I haven’t really experienced before, and definitely worth it.

Sunday morning we headed to the London Review bookshop- floor to ceiling books in beautiful covers, armchairs and cake- what more could you possibly want? I was very excited to be there.

We went to the Literary Kaffeeklatsch event, where two publishers held a discussion about their latest publications translated from foreign languages. The two short books were Beside The Sea and Down The Rabbit Hole. We were treated to brief excerts from each and they sounded intriguing. They both looked at parent-child relationships gone wrong due to a distorted perception of reality, and focused on the importance of strength of voice in a short book.

Afterwards there was a Live Translation event, held in the British Museum, where two English translators compared their interpretations of a German novelist’s work. Not even one line of the text was identical in the two translations, demonstrating what a difficult and variable task translating must be. The panel also discussed how faithful a translator should be to the original, how they made decisions concerning certain words or structures and the importance of accuracy balanced with a feel for the flow of the book. Google’s Babelfish translation showed how bad translation can be by lacking the common sense that a human translator uses automatically.

They talked about their experiences collaborating for a translation, and how this can be challenging. A close relationship with the author was considered an advantage to producing a good translation. The author, Daniel Kehlmann, who was also present, reported that he reads the first draft of his translators text and questions her over the parts where he feels she has not completely caught the meaning of what he wanted to say. Sometimes changes will be make, but ultimately the decision is in the hands of the translator. Kehlmann also mentioned the difficulty with translating humour into different languages, as well as the differences in using direct speech.

The event was very educational on the topic of translation, as well as being highly entertaining. I bought my first translation of a book by Cees Nooteboom, and am looking forward to reading it. The knowledge that it is not in its original language will make me wonder how different the text is, and what changes in nuance have been made. It is clear that translation is a personal exercise, yet how far does the responsibility for the book lie with the translator? In some way they have re-created the book, so what degree of ownership should be allocated to them?

The book is better than the film

This is a phrase I hear myself saying regularly. It’s an adage I firmly believe in; more often than not, the book precedes the film and so is the original. Books can go into more detail than films, and allow the imagination free reign. Annoying characters are found far less in writing as we have the ability to shape them, rather than being handed a fully-formed personality by an actor who may have different perceptions of how to interpret that character. They say that a picture speaks a thousand words, yet one word can also elicit a thousand different pictures when read by different people, in different circumstances and moods. Being able to choose how the character appears allows wonderful variation from reader to reader, making the experience more personal for each of them. Also, sometimes when turning a book into a film, odd and seemingly unnecessary changes are made to the plot which can leave many readers perplexed and annoyed. I do love films as well, but usually enjoy them more if they aren’t based on a book, or at least not one that I’ve read.

However, there are some exceptions to this rule. As mentioned before, I think the film of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is better than the book. Another major example is Hannibal Rising by Thomas Harris. I’d seen the film first, and while it wasn’t as good as Silence of the Lambs, it was alright. I was expecting the book to go into more depth and to further explore the character of a psychopath. I was disappointed. It read exactly like the film, employing none of the techniques available to books for better effect, no inner monologues or exact description to highlight certain aspects of a scene. It felt more like a script than a book, and in this case the horror and violence was better portrayed on film.

Do you know any other films that beat the book?