Michelle Bailat-Jones

Writer, Translator, Reader

I finished up the last third of Anne Bragance’s Une Succulente au fond de l’impasse and it didn’t radically change my earlier impression of the book. Overall, very disappointing. But I am interested in several other Bragance titles and hope to find something on the same level as Casus Belli among her other books.

In the light of the current upheaval in publishing, I’m curious how this sort of thing continues to happen. I mean, how does a book this blah get published? Who is the lazy editor that doesn’t say, look, this needs some re-thinking, before publication? Bragance is an accomplished writer; I would assume she could handle it. I don’t think this is an issue of my reading in the wrong genre, or missing some deeply interesting or mysterious element of the book. (For what it’s worth, my entire book group agrees the book failed, so it isn’t just me and even if that’s only six people, we rarely come to such easy accord.) The book is touted as serious literary fiction but it reads like a first draft, or three first drafts. If it was meant to be three interconnected novellas, Bragance fails to work both the form and the stories to a satisfying conclusion. The three parts of the novel don’t speak to each other, except on a very superficial level. And as I mentioned before, the three first-person narrators could have all been the exact same person.


The following most excellent and eloquent essay has been (s)linking around the web these days. The essay is on translation and written by Harvard University Press Editor Sharmila Sen. This bit will stay with me:

A translation is the original text’s wife. If too pretty, the translation must be cheating on her husband, the text. If faithful, the translation must not be very pretty.

I love that. And it was a timely sentence for me to read as I struggle with getting Ramuz into English. I recently got a disappointing rejection from a journal where an intern wrote, “I liked the French but the translation did not work”. Ouch. In the particular story I submitted, there were three POV shifts, a relatively unheard of use of a pronoun that doesn’t exist in English, unsettling shifts in tense and I won’t even go into Ramuz’s obsessional use of semi-colons. So, yes, she’s completely right, the translation doesn’t “work”. And maybe my translation fell short of resolving those issues so I’m more than willing to get back to the two texts and see what I can do to. But this is the struggle with translation…how to recreate/reflect the eccentricity of Ramuzian French in English to an Anglophone reader? I’ll just keep trying…


My Virginia Woolf project is gaining momentum. I tucked into two of her earliest short stories over the weekend – Phyllis and Rosamond and The Mysterious Case of Miss V.  Phyllis and Rosamond is a detailed portrait of two women as well as a discussion of types. The story tosses the idea of freedom around, personal and intellectual freedom, amidst a discussion of marriage expectations. I won’t go into detail about The Mysterious Case of Miss V. because it was more abstract and less easy to describe, but it struck me while reading both stories that Woolf understood what the coming of modernity would mean for women, both the positives and the negatives, and already in her early work, she was trying to sort out the impending muddle.

And also, a small point, but I’m noticing how Woolf has several of her characters conflate hard, solid facts with the idea of comfort. It is a strange pairing. Yet emotions must have been shifting, unreliable things to get a grip on for someone like Woolf while facts were fixed, and dependable.  Comforting.

7 Responses to “tuesday reading notes”

  1. JoV

    The Maid by TsuTsui brought me here. I must say you are very well read and you have an impressive reading list! I read translated books, quite a lot, recently devour Japanese lit in heavy chunk. Your intro to the blog is mesmerising too.

  2. Lilian Nattel

    I think the way it happens is this–scared publishers are publishing authors whose work has done the trick before and at a certain point those authors have more clout than the editors. My h and I were rolling our eyes at a number of points in the last of the Harry Potter series, but Rowling had nothing to prove at that point and a deadline to meet. My kids didn’t complain about it.

  3. Guilherme


    It’s amazing that you share this episode of rejection (however myopic) with your readers. Thank you for your gesture; it’s great for an aspiring translator to read it. I’m going to use it as fuel to start this translation I’ve been avoiding for the longest time.
    In another bit of good news, here’s what Maureen corrigan had to say about a new translation of Madame Bovary:



  4. litlove

    I have to agree with Lilian about the publishers and I’m really sorry to hear about the Ramuz. It sounds as if you had a mountain to climb in terms of the difficulties of the translation. Did you get any more feedback than a ‘no thank you?’ I feel for you because I know exactly how flexible French can be and how stubbornly inflexible English remains!!

  5. verbivore

    JoV – Thank you for leaving a comment. I will hop on over to see your comments on the Japanese Lit. Glad we share some reading interests!

    Lilian – Yes, I think that is exactly it. And I couldn’t agree more with you about Harry Potter. I also got very frustrated with her cut corners and what not, but yes…deadline and everyone knew everyone would buy it anyway. Alas.

    Guilherme – Tell more!!! What are translating? And thank you for the link! (If you’d like I can send you all my mountains of rejections in the hopes it will inspire you further – they just depress me 🙂

    Litlove – No other feedback at all. Which makes me wonder if she read both diagonally. But I am not going to focus on it too much, another story has been accepted and I will just keep plunking away on revisions and new translations. But it is nice to hear from someone who understands the intracacies of French to English. It’s so common to see in translation, I think most people assume it is easy.

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