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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Revenge of the Translator

Brice Matthieussent

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To purchase Revenge of the Translator

Title: Revenge of the Translator
Author: Brice Matthieussent
Genre: Novel
Written: 2009 (Eng. 2018)
Length: 331 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Revenge of the Translator - US
Revenge of the Translator - UK
Revenge of the Translator - Canada
Vengeance du traducteur - Canada
Vengeance du traducteur - France
La vendetta del traduttore - Italia
  • French title: Vengeance du traducteur
  • Translated by Emma Ramadan

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Our Assessment:

B : amusingly spun-out idea

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Le Monde . 3/9/2009 René de Ceccatty
Publishers Weekly . 19/11/2018 .

  From the Reviews:
  • "Car ce n'est que dans les digressions internes aux notes (les souvenirs d'enfance de Brice Matthieussent lui-même, enfin libéré du carcan de son système narratif) que l'on trouve un ton naturel et vrai, fût-il amené par l'artifice général de la construction. Alors quelque chose se passe de très émouvant : on est au coeur de la littérature, de sa capacité de faire vibrer le réel, de l'atteindre par les mots. De même les pauses réflexives sur la fiction, sur la lecture, sur la traduction bien sûr, sont plus saisissantes que le récit même (le contenu du livre prétendument traduit), qui, réduit à lui-même, est plus banal." - René de Ceccatty, Le Monde

  • "(B)oisterous and beguiling from the first page to the last (.....) At once a powerful satire and an ode to a collaborative art form, this delightful novel will have readers scratching their heads, retracing their steps, and delighting anew in the art of translation, including Ramadanís own skillful work here." - Publishers Weekly

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Revenge of the Translator begins with a translator who has considerable issues with the work he's translating -- a novel titled Translator's Revenge (the working title for the French version: Vengeance du Traducteur), published under a pseudonym by an author who has managed to keep his identity a secret. It features David Grey, a translator (from French to English) -- including of American novelist Abel Prote's most recent book, (N.d.T.).
       The translator finds Translator's Revenge : "is utter nonsense and the author a scoundrel" and makes his contempt clear right from the outset: the book begins with the pages divided by a bar, and blank above the line, save an asterisk on each page and the equivalent of a footnote by the very forward translator below it: it's all commentary, with the original and translation little more than a void. The translator explains that he's so fed up that he's making wholesale -- and grand scale - changes to the text -- for example, removing all the adjectives and adverbs (though helpfully then listing all that has been removed), as well as then the stage directions, comparisons and metaphors. He admits that he's: "an indelicate transporter, a clumsy mover" from one language to another; certainly, he leaves his imprint on the translation. This stands in contrast to the explicit instructions Abel Grote give to David Grey regarding (N.d.T.): "In your work as a translator, the strictest rigor is essential: remain invisible, silent, irreproachable". The translator-narrator here remains anything but -- intruding first by reshaping the text, but eventually also becoming even more of a presence in it -- interacting with David and Prote's secretary, Doris, as: "Ted, or Trad, or Brad" (he is the translator -- "le traducteur", but otherwise specifics aren't too specific).
       Ted/Trad has a point about the text he's working on, at least from how he describes it. In particular, the Nabokovian echoes are very strong. Prote is introduced in a chapter which begins with a near-verbatim version of the opening of Nabokov's The Real Life of Sebastian Knight -- deleted by Ted/Trad in his translation (though provided in full in his explanation ...) -- while Lolita herself, as Dolores Haze (abhorring the name 'Lolita' and the reminders of Humbert Humbert's use of it), figures in the story, having been involved with Prote's father.
       Prote's strong authorial hand obviously affects David, and then also Doris, with Ted/Trad then getting drawn into their/the story -- and then finding that he is able to manipulate reality via the alterations he makes in his translation. Basically, he found himself able to change the story -- demonstrating this at several points to the characters, and allowing him to outplay Prote at his own game (it would seem). As he explains it:

This American novel, by an anonymous author, or rather by an established writer who does not want to reveal his identity, I not only translated it but adapted, modified, reorganized it from top to bottom, I appropriated it, vampirized it for reasons that do not concern you. Then a bizarre thing happened: to my great surprise, I noticed that the entirety of my translation, Vengeance du traducteur, had -- and still has -- the curious habit of transposing itself onto real life.
       So Revenge of the Translator is an elaborate variation on the usual novel of an author playing a role in his own work, manipulating his characters even more directly, and shaping his own story, bringing translators into play -- on several levels, from David Grey, the nominal character in the work being translated, to Ted/Trad, becoming a character in his own translation, to, in an addition to the English translation of this work, Emma Ramadan appearing on the scene near the novel's (new, supplemental) conclusion .....
       It's an amusing idea, and fairly amusingly played out, with Prote a significant figure, cruelly playing with his characters but then outflanked by the translator. Matthieussent has good fun with this, on its different levels -- from the very obvious (""A key !" cries Doris, brandishing a shiny object") to the playful homages and references. It makes for a somewhat convoluted fiction, what with its various levels (and different forms of presentation), but also quite an enjoyable story, that also nicely underlines the role of the translator in what we read, and how s/he can (re)shape texts, and what some of the consequences of that might be.

- M.A.Orthofer, 8 December 2019

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Revenge of the Translator:
  • Deep Vellum publicity page
  • P.O.L. publicity page
  • Marsilio publicity page
  • Q & A with translator Emma Ramadan at Electric Literature
  • Q & A with translator Emma Ramadan at Vol.1
Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       French translator and author Brice Matthieussent was born in 1950.

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© 2019-2021 the complete review

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