What was the experience of working with the book’s translator, Daniel Levin Becker, like? How closely did you work together on the English edition? Did you offer any specific guidance or advice? Were there any surprising moments during your collaboration, or joyful moments, or challenges?
Since Daniel lives in Paris, it was very easy for us to meet. Daniel sent me a few questions by email, to which I tried my best to respond. Sometimes these touched on very specific points and other times on more general questions. Daniel is also a poet, he’s a member of the Oulipo poetic movement, and his approach to language isn’t that of a translator in the traditional sense: it is also that of a poet who is sensitive to the musicality of the text, to the way in which the writing evolves from the start to the end of the book: at the start, the sentences are long and capacious and double back on themselves. As the book moves towards its ‘heart of darkness’, the language dislocates, deconstructs, falls apart. This movement was important to the book’s musicality, and Daniel understood that very well. Just as he understood that the dialogue (often the weakest part of a novel) was very important in creating the musicality and structure of a paragraph, even of a whole chapter.
Why do you feel it’s important for us to celebrate translated fiction?
Every language has its own spirit, and every nation has a unique literary practise: translation is a kind of safeguard of the teeming biodiversity of literature. Celebrating translated literature means celebrating alterity, diversity and abundance, and celebrating our own calling into question, the better to reinvent ourselves. Let us imagine for a few seconds a world where we can only read books written in our own language; a world where the only literary universes at our disposal come from inside our own languages, our own relationship to the world. It would undoubtedly be very limited and restrictive. How can literature truly come alive in us without seeing it transformed when we read totally different universes and approaches?
If you had to choose three works of fiction that have inspired your career the most, what would they be and why?
Light in August by William Faulkner, In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust and In Cold Blood by Truman Capote. Of course, it’s unfair and very difficult to discard so many books that have been just as fundamental as these three (I’m thinking of Conrad, Flaubert, Hugo in particular, so many others including the writers of the Nouveau Roman, Beckett, Duras, Claude Simon). But I chose these three titles because each one has built my relationship to my primary literary practise, which is novel-writing.
Faulkner taught me, in a certain way, to look reality in the face, to see that great art could be built from places and human experiences where literature doesn’t usually belong. It’s a question I often asked myself in my youth: how could I be a writer, I who come from a world that will never be spoken about?
From Proust, I learned deep immersion in the human spirit, its psychology and its depths, but also, and above all, the art of making the past rise up like a suddenly renewed and immediate image. Reading Proust made me want to find a language that unfolds its story within that infinity of factors which are the length and the dilation of time, and psychological analysis. It’s know as the Zeno paradox: the arrow approaches its target, and the closer it gets, the further away it seems. The more you get into the detail of a scene, the more closely you observe it, the more it seems immense and unattainable. What I owe to Proust lies in this feeling that writing a book, a scene, is to open up a vertigo; the infinite in a single detail.
Truman Capote’s book gripped me with its violence, but also – and above all – its analytical approach to the characters and to the situations. The novelist outlines a set of proceedings, and it’s the notion of process, of method, of analytical approach, that greatly, and increasingly, inspires me in my work.