The sad statue and la statue triste

I’m due back in hospital on Tuesday next for the operation that, through nobody’s fault, has had to be put off a couple of times. As I said before, I’ll be out of action for a few days so I’ll try to set up a posting to appear automatically while I’m away. Given my technological ability that will mean ‘Watch this space but don’t expect anything to appear’.

Meanwhile a couple of things this week merit a mention. First there was the news that Sanal Edamaruku, who’s apparently a well-known rationalist in Mumbai, may be sent to jail for blasphemy. It’s because, while everyone else was marvelling at the sight of a statue of Jesus weeping, he checked the plumbing and found that the water was coming from some leaky pipes. No surprise there but the story does offer two excellent images/symbols for writers. Apparently, the pipes were for sewage, so the thought of Jesus weeping sewage is a (ahem) Godsend for sceptics and believers alike – the former can scoff at religion, the latter can draw conclusions about how disappointed the Saviour is at what He’s witnessing in His world nowadays. Either way, it’s a great message. The second narrative thread comes from the fact that believers in the miracle have been drinking the tears to cleanse themselves – forgive the cliché but you couldn’t make it up.

Next, I don’t want to go into any details yet but a publisher wants the translation rights for all my Carston novels except the first, Material Evidence. The reason for omitting this one is that many other countries are less tolerant of graphic violence than ours and the ending does have some nasty stuff in it. Interestingly, I put it in because (this being my first ever crime novel), I assumed it was what readers wanted. Since then, apart from an episode in Rough Justice which was essential to the narrative, I’ve avoided it. It made me wonder though whether that’s why readers are buying three times as many copies of Material Evidence as any of the others.

Anyway, the whole area of translation is interesting. If a translator knows her potential target audience is squeamish, will she deliberately tone down anything she considers potentially offensive? If so, how will that affect the impact of the narrative or the characters of perpetrators and victims alike? More generally, will Jack Carston and the rest be the same people if they’re speaking Urdu or Mandarin?

And there are other dangers, as one personal experience brought home to me a while ago. I taught French at Aberdeen University and, during one summer vacation, I happened to be the only member of staff available when a call came from a pharmaceutical company needing a French translation of the instructions for an asthma inhaler. It was fairly straightforward and didn’t involve anything much in the way of technical vocabulary so I was able to do it very quickly. Of course, I took great care to double-check all the terms I used and yet, for the next few months, I was anxiously waiting to hear whether the population of France saw any sudden downward fluctuations which could be inhaler-related.

Now excuse me while I write a story. ‘Il y avait une fois une statue qui était très triste.’.

11 comments

    1. Thanks Greta. There wasn’t anything in the documentation from the hospital about Serbian vampires so thanks for that warning, too.

  1. Onec again, enjoy your enforced rest and I hope you get it this time, Bill! Come back with even more to write about. That story about the statue reminds me of a marvellous (but possibly slightly blasphemous) scene in the once banned film, ‘The Devils’, involving lots of nuns and a supposed holy relic. Great news about the translations.

    1. Thanks Rosemary. I know very well the scene you mean. My wife played the nun in question on stage in Aberdeen once and had to … er … manipulate the relic. (And if that isn’t a line from an upmarket Carry On script, I don’t know what is.)

  2. For a moment today I thought I was going to gazump you in cardiac theatre tomorrow – what a laugh that would have been, eh?!! However, my echo cardiograph looks nae bad… nae bad… nae bad…

    All the best tomorrow. Coco and I will be sending you the Good Vibes.

    1. But you’re an anaesthetist, what do you know about cardiographs? Or ingrowing toenails for that matter? On the other hand, if you’re serious, stop doing whatever it is that’s causing the problem. And that’s me speaking in my professional capacity as a doctor who knows a lot about Victor Hugo’s theatre.

  3. Very funny, I will send Coco to visit so he can sit at your bedside eating your grapes and quoting from his epic historical novel, “Balzac and Moi”.

    Meanwhile, think of nice things to say to your own personal anaesthetist. (Just don’t say anything that might be taken to imply that he or she is some kinda goddam jumped-up hospital porter, adds Coco).

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