The DON BARTLETT interview: part two

Posted: September 9, 2011 in Norway, Scandinavia

6] Do you have favourite Norwegian or Non-Norwegian crime novels?

Too many to name.

7] When you translate do you read the book straight through in Norwegian before you start translating, or do you translate as you go along?

No, I read the book in Norwegian first, get an idea of what strengths there are, what I will have to make sure I bring out, what knotty problems there might be, then make a first draft, which is usually poor because it keeps too close to the source language. Then I start making it sound more English and slowly begin to crack the problems. I go through three or four drafts and there are more adjustments as the translation goes through the editing stage. No such thing as perfection, just gradual improvement.

8] How much say does the translator have over the finished product compared with the author or editor?

Depends on lots of variables. Some authors like to be part of the discussion, some don’t. Some editors invest a lot of time, some don’t. The best scenario is when all three (translator, editor and author) are fully involved and trust each other. What the translator hands over is (you hope) a readable version of the original text. The editor (s) then may query language use, check for plot holes and monitor consistency within the novel and within a series. In the case of Jo Nesbø’s novels, the editors and I work very closely together to ensure the latter. I feel I have enough say.

9] When people in reviews comment on the translation, how fair is that?

Entirely fair, but it doesn’t happen that often. Translators have a voice, inasmuch as no two translations of the same literary text are ever the same. So, there is something for reviewers to comment on – style, readability, fluency, rhythm, etc. But I can appreciate reviewers feel uncomfortable about giving an informed opinion on translated literature as they don’t know the source.

10] Which translators do you admire?

Those who worked without the benefits of the Internet.

11] Which other writers would you like to translate?

I am very happy with the range of authors I translate now (half crime fiction, half mainstream literature) but I always keep an eye open.

12] You must know Harry Hole better than anyone, apart from Jo Nesbø. Who would you choose to play his part in a movie?

No idea. I am probably as intrigued as you to hear who will be chosen for THE SNOWMAN film.

13] Do you think that the recent terrible events in Oslo, and on Utøya, will have any influence on Norwegian crime writing? 

It is inevitable, even if it is only at the level of a time reference. This inconceivable crime has changed the context in which writers write.  

I have to say the standard of response from royalty, politicians, writers and the press in Norway has been extremely impressive with a constant flow of sensitive, thoughtful and unifying speeches/ articles.  

What also struck me – but this may be déformation professionnelle – was that the newspaper articles that dealt with Breivik the man were very much like reading a Staalesen or a Dahl novel, in the way they described how a character had gone off the rails. And I was reminded of the young neo-Nazi and the ex-soldier’s assassination plot in Nesbø’s THE REDBREAST. Fact contrives to be stranger, much more far-fetched, than fiction.

Photo taken at Crime Fest 2009 shows-Maxine of Petrona, Don Bartlett, Peter of Detectives Beyond Borders, and Karen of Euro Crime

[I will be posting the concluding part of the interview in the next few days]  

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Comments
  1. Norman – Wonderful interview :-). Thanks to you and to Don Bartlett for this. I respect the hard work of translators such as Bartlett who do such a terrific job of conveying not just the author’s words, but also the nuances of meaning. That does, as Bartlett says, require drafts and extra effort, and one has to (well, this one has to) admire that work and the final result.

  2. What a pleasure to read this interview about the work of a translator. When I studied English, I wanted to translate crime fiction, but my fellow students kept telling me that the pay was lousy 😉

    I´m looking forward to the third part, and happy anniversary, Norman!

  3. Maxine says:

    Yes, great interview and very perceptive points, particularly at the end. I like his comment about translators and the internet, too 😉

  4. Norman says:

    Thanks Maxine, Margot and Dorte for your comments on the interview. Whenever I read Jo Nesbo or K.O.Dahl I never think it hasn’t been written firstly in English, which is probably the aim of the translator.
    The way the humour in those writers comes across is marvelous. I greatly respect all translators, and Don Bartlett read Biggles as a child a really good sign.

  5. kathy d. says:

    I’ve only read Nesbo of this batch, and from what I read in Nemesis, kudos to Nesbo and Bartlett. Every nuance and bit of humor came through. I was riveted, transfixed, unable to move from my reading location, wide-eyed — and, laughing in spots. When I read the scenes in with Harry and the Roma gangster prisoner I was amazed, in a good way. It was written like a chess game, check and mate. And the two ending denouements: All I could say was Bravo! One of the best thrillers I have ever read, and congratulations must go to the translator as well as the author for conveying everything Nesbo meant to say.

  6. […] Bartlett on translating from the Norwegian: …I read the book in Norwegian first, get an idea of what strengths there are, what I will have to make sure I bring out, what knotty problems there might be, then make a first draft, which is usually poor because it keeps too close to the source language. Then I start making it sound more English and slowly begin to crack the problems. I go through three or four drafts and there are more adjustments as the translation goes through the editing stage. No such thing as perfection, just gradual improvement. (from Crime Scraps) […]

  7. […] The 2014 Best Transl… on The DON BARTLETT interview: pa… […]

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