The award-winning translator of over 200 novels from English into French pens an original tale exploring the creative acts of writing and translating as well as the complicated relationship between authors, their translators, and readers.
Both a story and a series of reflections on the act of translation, Revenge of the Translator sketches a dizzying map of connections between reader, author, translator, and character. Brice Matthieussent aims to empower translators rather than obscure them ... the novel creates a space for translators to regard their art as an organic interaction rather than a shameful invasion ... Emma Ramadan’s deft translation of Revenge of the Translator into English adds yet another layer to the plot. In a novel where translation is at the forefront of both theme and plot, the reader almost ironically recognizes Ramadan’s role as translator in this translation of a translation. Ramadan handles her complex task with masterful clarity as she embraces Matthieussent’s enthralling novel, his liberation of translation ... Wonderfully lost in the intricately woven plots, in the novel’s surreal atmosphere and rebellious humor, the reader encounters translation as a place for humanity—flawed, powerful, and shared.
Its pulsating pyrotechnic narrative, though hard to keep up with at times, delivers an array of amusing twists and turns ... The various levels of narrative fuse together, and, in turn, reality dissolves entirely ... But the novel’s execution makes up for much of its seemingly false promises. For readers intimately familiar with French literature, Matthieussent’s style falls markedly closer to that of Perec on a spectrum that stretches to Proustian floridity. The French author, who’s translated many English-language novels, such as Less Than Zero, into French, boasts a meticulous but pragmatic approach, and Ramadan remains faithful to his clarity. The translation gets most amusing in Ramadan’s renditions of the endless puns that cap the ends of Trad’s footnotes ... Even more amusing is how Ramadan takes on the voice of our masculine narrator and willfully reproduces the text’s rampant chauvinism ... For Ramadan, those problems involve deep-seated assumptions about sex and gender as well as the distinction between writing and performance. In her appropriation of the voice of our rapacious male narrator, she transforms the text’s dramaturge into its principal actor—and in her own image, no less. Refusing to settle for reverence, Ramadan opts for unabashed provocation, uprooting the text from its cultural stasis and holding it up to the piercing scrutiny of today’s most inflammatory concerns. It’s a work that amounts to a critical reinvention that aspires not to a spot among the translated literary canon, but to the unraveling of the very standards by which that canon is praised.
The book under review here is an American translation of a French novel about a French translation of an American novel about an American translation of a French novel. If this all sounds confusing, that’s because it is. Abject bewilderment is surely in store, what’s more, for any reader hoping that the book’s confusions don’t extend past—or actively mess with—this basic recursive structure, which, like a set of nesting dolls, at least manages to be organized ... If straightforward realism (or understatement, or minimalism, or modesty, or crystalline aesthetic order) tends to be more your thing, Matthieussent’s demanding and self-indulgent concoction, many-layered and messy like a smashed mille-feuille, might be a bit much. Even readers drawn to experimental fiction and intrigued by the challenge of the strict Oulipian premise—a novel made up entirely of footnotes—might be disappointed to find that Matthieussent is not interested, after all, in pulling off that particular feat ... His metaphors and digressions, though entertaining, tend to muddle more than they reveal ... It is one of the unique triumphs and one of the limitations of Revenge of the Translator that it will be most richly experienced by those who can compare it to its French fraternal, not identical, twin ... It’s a credit to Ramadan that Revenge of the Translator, in its entirety, manages to feel like a necessary transgression.