Wednesday, 21 November 2012

'Madam Idiotina of the Highest Order'

Read Vivienne Plumb's The Diary as a Positive in Female Adult Behaviour (1999, Headworx), a small mysterious book.

As well as being mysterious, it is very well written: on p. 10, the story teller - diary writer - sees

"...the Cakeman's bubblegum pink van. It was the pink of sticking plasters or like those baby girl clothes they sell in those baby clothing shops that close down and get turned into burger bars...".

Then she writes:

" The Cakeman was parked opposite the 24-Hour Shop and he was delivering chocolate lamingtons, frosted finger buns, brandy snaps, sticky jam donuts, and thick wedges of oozing custard squares.

The sliding rear doors of the van were open and inside I could see the Cakeman himself, a small man in bermuda shorts with his arms full of apricot pies. I asked him if I could buy a donut and he agreed and invited me into the van.

In the soft cakey dark the Cakeman's long socked leg brushed against mine as he handed me the donut. The jam gleamed evilly from the centre, an evil ruby pirate eye winking and glinting, aye, aye, eat me why don't you, aye, why don't you eat three of me in one go?"

I have noticed that Plumb generally avoids capital letters - she writes 'friday'  - which makes Cakeman's capital C salient. He is delivering unhealthy sickly sweet food from the van's dark hole. Even though he is only 'a small man in bermuda shorts', one feels that he is a being with some awful power, there is a sense of danger when he 'invites her into the van'. Innocence perverted by male power. There is a soft darkness and a long leg brushing against her (Yuk!). The donut gleams evilly - there! now it is said outright, he is evil. He tries to draw her into into an 'in-depth philosophical debate'.

My other favourite bit is at the end of the book, when she reports behaving particularly stupidly under the influence of  sexual desire:
"I am a fool.
I know I am a fool.
I am Madam Idiotina of the Highest Order."

That delighted me, it is the kind of things teenagers say to each other and to themselves. A funny dialogue develops between the different parts of herself - MADAM IDIOTINA and the OTHER PERSONA, GENERALLY IGNORED. I laughed out loud.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

A bow to Semadar Megged

The Rabbi's Daughter by Reva Mann (2007)  - an unpleasant read. Too much sex told too vividly: the main character is young and desperate and continuously makes decisions based on a desire to escape from her loneliness, and I found I had little patience for her desperation, though I finished the book to see what happens, because I am a compulsive finisher. The Jewish Orthodox lifestyle rang true as described there. It was interesting to find out what their rules are for sex. Less stringent than I'd heard.

On the other hand, I read Enrique Vila-Matas' Never any End to Paris, which he wrote in Spanish in 2003 and which was translated by Anne McLean in 2011 (New Directions Publishing). It is very well translated, in the sense that it is fluent and one does not feel any obstacle between oneself and the author's thoughts:  the style is limpid. Reading Vila-Matas reminds me of when I first plugged earphones into my ears and listened to someone speaking: the voice seemed to exist in my head as if there was nothing between my ears except the words passing through, like a beam of light in the dark.

I liked the cover and all that it hints at: this is the second time I've come across a cover by Semadar Megged, and I think she does it intelligently; it is a pleasure to wonder about what she has done and why, though the poor translator deserves a bigger font here.

I want to read this book a second time because it is so rich. I want to understand as much as possible what is in there. Vila-Matas mentions Hemingways' iceberg theory of the short story: never tell what is most important. He writes ironically about irony, and my feeling is that Hemingway - who is a major figure in the book - Hemingway took himself immensely seriously.

The book contains other strong presences: the city of Paris, with its cafes and grey streets, Marguerite Duras who lets Vila-Matas live in her garret, his best friend Raul Escari, and all the other famous people who lived in the garret before him.

All of this divided into 113 sections in lengths varying from several pages to short paragraphs. Why 113, I wonder? All I know is that it is a prime number the three cifers of which can be permutated to form two other prime numbers, 131 and 311...

Monday, 5 November 2012


From Bodil Malmsten's blog Finistere - translated from Swedish with the help of Google Translate:

Mitt Romney, tax evader, presidential candidate
Vanity Fair August 2012

Sweden is not the United States. This is not America, but still. The money, all Mitt Romney's money, his personal money, private equity, how much money banks and big companies donate to Mitt Romney's campaign; how we think when we think about money, whether we consider the distribution of money, how we think about taxes, how we think about having and not having, how we think about money - this is not about Mitt Romney, the elections in the US - this concerns everyone everywhere, every day.

Thursday, 1 November 2012

About not doing and driving

I can't get myself into what I want to do.
When I was translating, I was consumed by it, ran from my bed to the computer every morning, forgot to eat.
I have several things on the go right now, besides the neglected garden, which will remain neglected because it is last on the list.
I have to finish the form to renew my driver licence - realised after 30 years in this country that the local name is driver licence, not drivers' licence. A licence to drive, it is mine, but the name means that the fact that it is mine is not the point. Maybe it should be called a driving licence.

I want to :

translate from German an anti-Semitic sentence which was carefully painted in Gothic script on the wall of a house in Bavaria in 1934, richly illustrated, full colour.


painstakingly insert corrections into a translation and publish it.

translate more stuff.

Instead, I have spent the last hour or so reading Bodil Malmsten's website, translating from Swedish with Google translate, a muddled affair. I almost wrote 'with the help of Google Translate', but sometimes I feel it is 'in spite of'. I mustn't, because without GT, I couldn't read her at all. Only a little of her work is translated to English, just the wonderful The Price of Water in Finistere. Very sad.