Passing the time

Maybe I’m growing out of novels, but I’ve read a few lately that I thought were just okay. Like The Elaine Dundy’s The Dud Avocado, which is Cold Comfort Farm set in Paris, and made me think I should be rereading Nancy Mitford instead. Or J.S. Foer’s Everything is Illuminated, which is told in two voices one of which is pretty funny while the other is an intensely annoying stab at magic realism. Or K.J. Fowler’s The Jane Austen Book Club, parts of which I’ll admit have stuck with me, but disappointingly not the Jane Austen parts. All these books have three or four opening pages of wildly enthusiastic accolades; books that don’t are, presumably, even less memorable.

I’ve decided the next thing I read has to be unadulteratedly good and have begun The Three Musketeers, in the new translation by Richard Pevear. Initial indications are promising.

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4 thoughts on “Passing the time

  1. I’d say it’s the reverse: Books without three or four opening pages of wildly-enthusiastic accolades are likely to be more memorable than those with.

    *Cold Comfort Farm* in Paris? Ew. I saw something nasty in the Louvre too, but you don’t see me going on about to all and sundry.

    I didn’t know that Pevear did French as well as Rrrroossian. The old Barrow translation was pretty bloodless.

  2. I don’t have a very good handle on Pevear. On the one hand, he needs a collaborator for Russian and not for French, which makes one think his French is more solid. On the other hand, his Three Musketeers sounds to me quite… Russian: I don’t know how to describe it exactly, but it has a clipped style I associate with various Russian novels, and not at all with French novels. I’m really enjoying it, but I’m also craving a more poetic tone, like that of Robin Buss’s translation of The Count of Monte Cristo.

    I haven’t read either of Pevear’s Tolstoys. A short review of his new War and Peace (in the TLS) suggests that it’s good, but not as good as Rosemary Edmonds. I also loved Edmonds’ W&P, and now, reading Pevear’s Dumas, I’m starting to think that the review might be right, that something is lost in Pevear’s modernism.

  3. Interesting. The TLS review also cites material from Briggs, calling it an “ordinary bloke’s War and Peace.” Apparently Briggs (1) gets rid of all the French, (2) has the low-rank soldiers talk in Cockney, and (3) has the General say “the fucking bastards” when Tolstoy only hints at a curse. I gather the reviewer liked Briggs better than Pevear, but Edmonds best of all.

    I wonder how much of it is just a question of becoming attached to the translation one first reads? War and Peace is such a great book that you feel like you’re owning it when you read it — you don’t want anything different from your personal experience of the story, the experience that opened up that world.

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