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Reading in a foreign language is always difficult... - dorsetgirl
November 14th, 2013
09:13 am
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Reading in a foreign language is always difficult...
I like to read while I'm eating, and this morning over breakfast I made a start on a book I bought to go on holiday with a few weeks back: Never Coming Back by Tim Weaver. I've never heard of Tim Weaver before - which probably explains why I've now typed Time instead of Tim twice - and thirteen pages in, I'm in some confusion.

For the first four pages I was completely convinced I was reading a female protagonist (it's written in first person). Even when the narrator phones home and speaks to a partner who is stated to be female, I just thought, "oh right, gay then". Then on the fifth page, someone - apparently an old friend - addresses our hero as "David", which - well, I wasn't expecting that at all. I've re-read the first four pages and I can't put a finger on why I totally took it for granted this was a woman. I suppose the most likely is that I hadn't noticed the author's name and assumed they were female, but I don't know. Something just feels a bit odd.

And there's another thing that's odd - the characters are speaking and thinking in American English, but are said to be English:

When our protagonist arrives at his/her destination and parks the car, this happens: "Popping the trunk, I grabbed my overnight bag and headed across the lot."

At this point I thought, "God, sometimes American books are just too much like hard work, specially early in the morning."

The protagonist's friend describes a period of time spent "trying to catch a break, waiting tables ... things got a little crazy", which (to me at least) is three more markedly American phrases.

And then on page 9, the protagonist and the old friend start reminiscing, slightly unconvincingly, about growing up in a village in England - we are invited to infer that it's in Devon.

Finally, the old friend announces "I have to use the can".

This book is hard work! Are these people British or American? The old friend has been in the States for five years and is a performer, so presumably chose to adapt fast to local usage. But our hero has only been there for six months and is a journalist for a British paper so it doesn't seem likely he'd be rushing to pick up American usage.

I deliberately haven't done any research yet, but at this point I'm puzzled. Have I got an American author here whose editor doesn't understand that English usage is different? Have I got a British author whose American publisher has insisted on changing things to words more familiar to American readers? Or what?

I suppose this has to rank as one of the more pointless posts of all time, but this book has me intrigued!


(4 comments | Leave a comment)

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Date:November 14th, 2013 09:48 am (UTC)
I've been (re)reading Pratchett books lately, only I've been reading ebook copies, and for some reason, they're the American printing. It's astonishingly disorienting to read such British books, with random Americanisms thrown in!
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Date:November 14th, 2013 09:33 pm (UTC)
That must be really annoying, and as you say, disorienting. It's something I've noticed with Amazon on a number of occasions, that they are really bad at making it clear whether a book is the British or American edition. It's particularly a problem when the American version has a different title, so you think it's a new book or one you've missed in the past.

Perhaps there's a case for asking for your money back on the grounds that it's not "as advertised" or telling them that British books should damn well actually be British unless otherwise stated!

Personally, I think there should be a glossary instead of random individual word changes.
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Date:November 14th, 2013 08:52 pm (UTC)
the start of Neil Gaiman's Ocean at the End of the Lane annoyed me intensely because at first it reads like the narrator's a little boy, then a few pages later it transpires he's a 40-something old man, and I had to go back and re-read the start.
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Date:November 14th, 2013 09:26 pm (UTC)
That's seriously weird. Are these people above editing? I loathe books where you have to go back and re-read something to make sense of it. I remember an English teacher saying to us "Your first job as the writer is to make sure that the reader never has to go back and have another go in order to make sense of it."

I remember years ago there was a programme with Penelope Keith where she was a successful agent or something, and a famous author submitted a book to her under a false name because they really needed to know whether the book was good or whether they were just cruising on past success. The idea of critical faculties being suspended where the writer is famous isn't a new one, apparently!
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