Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Ocalone w Tłumaczeniu

Ocalone w Tłumaczeniu, Stanisław Barańczak

The title, in my translation, is Completed in Translation.

I have lots to say about this, but only time to write some bullet points.

  • Robert Frost poem: striking translation.

  • If I had to pick an example to post here, it would be the e. e. cummings.

  • Not only are the translations good, but it makes poetry interesting.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

A Son of the Circus

A Son of the Circus, John Irving

I was disappointed that this was not a murder mystery. It starts out like one, but then, way before the end, Irving reveals the whole secret. From then on you're just watching the inevitable tying up of all the various narratives.

Too bad. I had once started this book, but I had stopped before the part where you realise it's not a murder mystery. Thus I actually read that beginning part twice. I had really been hoping tha Irving would put his considerable powers towards the very crafty plot needed to obscure and then reveal an assassin. He did not; it's just another Irving.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Harry Potter et le Prince de sang-mêlé

Harry Potter et le Prince de sang-mêlé, J.K. Rowling, tr. Jean-François Ménard.

Yet another book that is strangely addictive despite not being that good. In trying to resolve this puzzle, I've got a lot to say about it.

There were many technical things that this book made me consider. Rowling is definitely avoiding many existing formulas for this kind of narrative, and she's doing it admirably. For example, Harry is not a great sorcerer, nor really great at anything supernatural except flying on a broom. He's just courageous, really. In a book set in a supernatural world, we could forgive Rowling for making the hero supernaturally powerful. But he's average and just tries hard. So, Rowling is taking a harder road. Throughout this, her complex structure stays intact.

This structure is another thing. I'm satisfied that every piece that Rowling introduced throughout the series has fallen into place. Harry's ability to speak to snakes was introduced very early, but it has found a consistent explanation; some other details about Sirius that I've now forgotten were also tightly integrated; and generally Rowling resolves all details that she raises, no matter how long ago in the series. This is impressive considering the number of years she's been writing the series. And reading a book that does this well is rewarding, in the way laughing at a sitcom is rewarding.

What disappoints me about this sixth book is how few details are left to resolve. I'm worried that the last book will be nothing but a long, tedious battle between hero and villain, and Rowling sucks hard at battles. I don't know what's wrong with her, but it's like whenever she narrates action, she tries to describe every little detail separately. She never takes advantage of the spontaneity or the poetry of action. She's strong when she sticks to her mathematical unknotting of the structure she's set up, and that's what I'm afraid will be lacking in the seventh novel.

What's left to resolve? Why do I want to read the last book? It's not to learn if Harry wins; he will win, by definition. I suppose I'd like to find out anything else about Voldemort, like where his evil really comes from. And I'd like to know what side Rogue (Snape, in English) is really on, and by extension what Dumbledore's plan has been all this time.

This is the only way the last book can be interesting: if it's all a long, slow revelation of Dumbledore's somehow eternal and all-encompassing plan. If it resorts to cheap lightning bolts shot from magic wands, I'm going to feel like all these previous weeks invested in reading this series have been wasted.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

The Cider House Rules

The Cider House Rules, John Irving

What surprised me was how easy John is on us. Several times, just as the jaws of narrative are about to clamp down hard on our favourite characters, he rescues us from tragedy. I continually felt that I was on the verge of disaster, when he would circumvent it by such devices as the villain announcing that she was no longer interested in revenge, or by a key confession arriving early, while we expect it to remain as a point of tension until the end of the story.

But, I'm just thinking: it reminds me of Dickens' style, the works of whom feature so prominently in this book. John must have intentionally planned these plot rescues, these "happy twists" that simply end a sub-narrative before it has a chance to get ahead of him. Remarkably, these moments, which should upset the rhythm, never deprive the story of an ounce of its powerful engagement.

I'm not saying that I felt "happy twists" in Dickens, though; rather, Dickens' abrupt halts to sub-narratives feel like unfulfilled forays. John does it WAY better. I wonder if all this, mentioning Dickens so much, then doing better, then mentioning Dickens again, is intentional?