João Reis’ great success in The Translator’s Bride is to convince his audience that they are reading a work written at modernism’s mid-twentieth-century zenith. The stream-of-consciousness style, the focus on an individual’s relationship with the world, and, most importantly, the synthesis of a period are so authentic I regularly had to remind myself that this book was first published in 2015 – and the author was born in 1985.
This novella follows a down-at-heel translator in the couple of days following the departure of his bride to a foreign land. He grumbles and gripes his way around a dirty unnamed city, and through encounters with publishers and poets, and with his landlady at his grim lodgings, as he tries to track down his fees, secure his next job, buy the little yellow house he believes will bring his bride back to him, and find the hat that he has lost on a tram moments after bidding his bride farewell.
This hat is the key to the trick Reis pulls. It works as a conventional symbol: its disappearance is paired with the translator’s loss of his companion, and in his view its absence relegates him to a lower class, marking him as less respectable than he is. But it also sheds light on Reis’s project in this novella. He is exploring the modernist novel of the mid-twentieth century, and he does this first by crowning his protagonist with the headgear all men would have worn in the period, and then by having him lose it. The physical and social discomfort of this loss pervades the book, pulling us out of our own times and holding us in the era of Ulysses and Mrs Dalloway. It also enables Reis to render the prose style of the period perfectly. And he does so in English, too (he translates his own work), showing us that he is as skilled at writing outside his own language as he is at writing outside his historical era.
Reviewed by West Camel
THE TRANSLATOR’S BRIDE
Written by João Reis
Translated from the Portuguese by the author
Published by Open Letter Books (2019)
West Camel is a writer, reviewer and editor. He edited Dalkey Archive’s Best European Fiction 2015, and is currently working for new press Orenda Books. His debut novel, Attend, is out now. www.westcamel.net.
Read West Camel’s #RivetingReview of THE DEATH OF THE PERFECT SENTENCES by Rein Raud
Read West Camel’s #RivetingReview of THE BEAUTIES – ESSENTIAL STORIES by Anton Chekhov
Read West Camel’s #RivetingReview of THE HISTORY OF BEES by Maja Lunde
Read West Camel’s #RivetingReview of SOUNDS FAMILAR or THE BEAST OF ARTEK by Zinovy Zinik
Read West Camel’s #RivetingReview of SEEING PEOPLE OFF by Jana Beňová
Read West Camel’s #RivetingReview of STONE UPON STONE by Wiesław Myśliwski
Read West Camel’s #RivetingReview of A TREATISE ON SHELLING BEANS by Wiesław Myśliwski
Read West Camel’s #RivetingReview of THE YOUNG BRIDE by Alessandro Baricco
Read West Camel’s #RivetingReview of VILLA TRISTE by Patrick Modiano
Read West Camel’s #RivetingReview of THE BROTHER by Rein Raud
Read West Camel’s #RivetingReview of ISTANBUL ISTANBUL by Burhan Sönmez
Read West Camel’s #RivetingReview of CRÉ NA CILLE by Máirtin Ó Cadhain