Translation and the Nobel prize fail to excite at Frankfurt

Frankfurt is over for another year – not that I was there, so I’m only commenting vicariously on the basis of what I’ve read.   However, apparently translation deals were few and far between, and – to judge from the decision taken by Nobel prizewinner Le Clézio’s French publisher, Gallimard – not even a matter for discussion.

Writing on the Book Fair blog, Chad Post (about whom I’ve written before – he is the author of Three Percent an excellent blog dedicated to translated fiction; also see my review of Dario Franceschini‘s book La Follia Improvvisa di Ignazio Rando) noted that

“Rather than jumping on the Nobel buzz and trying to auction the rights to the new Le Clezio book to a commercial U.S. publisher, Anne-Solange decided not to even try to sell the rights at the Fair. “When an American publisher asks me about the book I reply with ‘Why are you interested in this Le Clezio? What do you know about his other books?,’ ” she said, clearly getting some well-deserved pleasure out of the baffled responses. “I tell them that I’ll note their interest, but this is a new book, I don’t need to rush the sale, I’ll sell the rights later. Instead I want to focus on getting a lot of Le Clezio in print.”

He continued:

“After speaking with her for a while, it’s clear that Anne-Solange wants to do right by Le Clezio’s work, rather than simply cashing in on his current fame. To me, this is a very valid approach, but one that most people will react badly to. (Anne-Solange has a bit of a reputation for criticizing American publishers and their resistance to French–well, any foreign country’s–fiction.) The desire to “create a context” for an author’s work is very admirable, and was echoed in my conversation with Carles Torner of the Ramon Llull Institut who wants a wide range of classic and modern Catalan authors translated into English rather than just a few contemporary books.”

Another blog, this time by Alison Flood writing in the Guardian, noted that there was barely a buzz among the independent presses at this year’s fair, and no sign of any big deals.  Sonny Leong, President of the Independent Publishers Guild, told her that

One of the things independents are particularly good at is taking a risk on translated fiction. But so far at this Frankfurt there hasn’t been a foreign book to spark excitement amongst English-language publishers.

Flood also mentioned Le Clézio, so on Friday I was interested to hear Liza Jardine also talking about the prize-winning author.  Liza Jardine is an eminent historian (Centenary Professor of Renaissance Studies at Queen Mary, University of London) and author of numerous major biographies on Christopher Wren, Joseph Hooke and Francis Bacon, among others. Her latest book is Going Dutch: How England Plundered Holland’sGlory .   She contributes regularly to a pithy little radio programme called A Point of View – which is where I heard her talking about Le Clézio.

The announcement was greeted with “a chorus of indignation” by the Anglophone press, but instead Jardine hails his nomination as the perfect author for our times: Le Clézio is the product of different cultures, growing up in Nice with his English father and French mother; he now spends time in France and New Mexico where he teaches.  He was described by the Nobel jury as “a traveller, a citizen of the world, a nomad”.  In the past few months, Jardine says, “we have all become painfully aware of the 24-hour operations of the global markets”, and Le Clezio’s novels

“reflect the dawning realisation of the West, in the week in which his prize was announced, that that fate of nations like Britain or the United States might be decided unexpectedly by the movement of a butterfly’s wing on the other side of the world.”

I, too, have to confess to complete ignorance of Le Clézio’s work, so I’m off to find whatever I can – in translation or French.

About Lucy Byatt

I'm a translator, from Italian into English. I also teach Italian Renaissance history and write.
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