Tag Archives: Don Bartlett

Who said that?

Translating novels

I vote for osmosis. I’m fairly certain translations just gradually slowly sort of happen. Don’t they?

The translators are on the warpath. Or, at least making themselves noticed. I understand that super-translator Daniel Hahn has written something really good on the subject. It’s just that I haven’t been able to read it. Not because it hasn’t been translated, but because it’s in a publication called The Author, and some of us don’t subscribe to it.

After Hari Kunzru ‘forgot’ to mention – in The Guardian – the man who had assisted his reading of Karl Ove Knausgaard’s books, there wasn’t one, but two, letters about it in last Saturday’s paper. And quite rightly.

Don Bartlett is the translator in question, and you feel that it would have been worth including his name in some dark corner of the article, even if it was mainly about Knausgaard. It would have been polite. Or maybe Hari reads Norwegian?

One of the letters, from Don’s colleague Kari Dickson appeared in The Review, while the other letter made it onto the letters page in the main section. It’s not bad managing two separate comments on one article.

Kari Dickson letter

Many readers probably still believe translating means taking one word at a time. You pick the ‘same’ word in the other language and write it down. Then you move on to the next word, and the next, and so on, until you’re at the end of the book. Or the mining report. Or the tourist brochure. Or even the death certficate. And there is only ever one way something can be translated.

(That last paragraph contains some sarcasm. In case you were about to believe me.)

Northern noir-ish author event

According to my informant, someone who shall remain anonymous, asked Ian Rankin if the reason his early books have not been translated into Swedish is because they were so bad it wasn’t worth the effort. I believe Ian’s reply was reasonably polite. Anon then suggested it didn’t matter because Swedes only want trashy crime to read on the beach.


I’m afraid this secondhand information about an author event in late November is really very late. How I have nagged my informant! Finally nailed him down before dinner last night.

Gunnar Staalesen, Catherine Lockerbie and Ian Rankin

It seems Edinburgh didn’t receive just a Christmas tree from Norway, but crime writer Gunnar Staalesen came over for a chat with his colleague Ian Rankin. It was organised jointly by the university and the Norwegian consulate. And the people with the tree.

Gunnar spoke to students at the university in the morning, before a public event at the Scottish Storytelling Centre in the evening. Jenny Brown moderated and I gather that Gunnar’s translator Don Bartlett was there as well. Don translates from Norwegian despite not speaking the language, and he can finish a book in just a few months.

Since I can’t compete with this very excellent piece in The Scotsman, I won’t try. For facts about Gunnar and his Bergen detective Varg Veum, who is a sort of Norwegian Philip Marlowe-Lew Archer-Sam Spade type, you can pop over and read the interview.

I understand that wherever Gunnar goes in Bergen he is stopped by people wanting him to commit murder in their street. Must be their Viking genes.

And I do wonder if he’s hinting at doing away with his ‘Wolf’ detective, because he’s too old. Varg Veum, not Gunnar Staalesen.

Gunnar Staalesen, Catherine Lockerbie ans Ian Rankin

Ian Rankin can always murder a Nordic citizen next time, if he feels like it. Otherwise I believe a good time was had by all.