Translation is a Love Affair

A complete impulse at the library, but the book was too cute! I’m a sucker for small books and cover with built in flaps, both of which this book has.Translation is a Love Affair is I think my first translated book of the year, written by French-Canadian author Jacques Poulin and translated by Sheila Fischman. In some ways it made the plot feel a little ironic, which may have been Poulin’s intent.

image from Amazon

The first-person narrator Marine (love that name!) is a vulnerable young woman who works as a translator. She is struck by the prose of French Canadian novelist Jack Waterman and immediately yearns to translate his latest book; she gets the opportunity when she moves to his hometown and they strike up a gentle friendship. Marine is content to stay at the chateau as she works, communing with the words she translates and the nature around her. One day, however, she comes across a small black cat with the name of Famine and a disconcerting message under its collar. Marine and M. Waterman search for the mysterious sender to determine who the girl is and why she needs their help.

The story is really just a novella, coming in at a little over 100 small pages. Not a lot happens necessarily; despite the search for Limolou, M. Poulin has no intent of creating a thriller. Instead it is a gentle character study. My one complaint is that I’m not sure if I completely believed Marine as a female character. She is vulnerable, and likes animals, and generally behaves like an independent young woman, but somehow the voice just didn’t quite ring true. It could be because the author is male, or because the novel was originally written in French.

I wouldn’t call the book great, but it was a pleasant little read. In some ways I felt the book was really trying to have a message or theme, and I can’t put my finger on what it is. I didn’t really understand how all the emphasis on translation related to the plot with Limolou and the process of fragile people finding healing by coming together. Perhaps I am trying to read into it too much, or missing something. Or perhaps I just hoped to love a story with books, cats, Fench, and a small mystery a bit more than I actually did.

Published in: on May 28, 2011 at 12:40 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , ,

Family Matters

Louise Platt Hauck has developed a surprisingly quick turn-around; after all, I only bought Family Matters and The Pink House in October and have read them both already. Usually books added to my shelves or TBR list languish for a long time waiting for the right moment. Somehow, though, older fiction seems to bypass this trend. The stories have no pretenses, no strings attached, not even a plot summary to read and think about for later. Instead they promise thick pages with a readable amount of text, not so short as to feel careless and not so long as to feel weighty. The kind of book that is easy to get lost in because it asks pleasantly, rather than demanding that you keep reading.

This edition is from Penn Publishing Company and the list in front divides Louise Platt Hauck’s books into two categories: Romances of Young Love and Problems of Married Life. Family Matters falls in the latter. It begins with warm, vivacious Julie Wentworth’s marriage to Ralph Harper. Julie is a little reluctant to leave her large, hospitable family behind–parents, brothers, and two grandmothers all beneath the same roof she was born under. Ralph, on the other hand, is occasionally overwhelmed by the Wentworths’ extroversion and is excited to have his own little home built in the new part of town. There the house will witness the birth of three Harper children (Wenny, Harriet, and Pudge), the joys of growing up, the trials of illness, death, and heartache, and most of all the the strong family bonds that are formed.

Julie herself admits at one point that she was cut out more for motherhood than marriage. She went through one wild fling in her youth, so that her marriage with Ralph is fond and sensible rather than passionate. Cooking, gardening, and housekeeping take her a while to learn, and even discipline is a struggle. Just as when she was younger, however, family is the most important element of her life. Julie is hopelessly and whole-heartedly devoted to raising her children. They are her pride and joy, the center of her world, and her maternal instinct extends beyond her own children. She is hit hard with empty nest syndrome when the story comes full circle and her own children are old enough to move out. Knowing her inner strength, however, she will find something else with which to fill her life.

I was surprised to find something other than the romance and giddy expectations of Louise Platt Hauck’s other books. Though the former may be my preference, this change of pace keeps it from becoming trite and adds a depth to my appreciation for her work. In some ways this realistic portrayals in this book reminded me of Joy Street, depicting the trials of everyday life. My only criticism is the relationship between Julie and her oldest son Wenny, whose devotion rivals hers. There is nothing wrong for a son to be openly affectionate with his mother, but from a young age Wenny fretted and fussed over her health, consoled her when she couldn’t sleep, eventually taking to calling her by her first name and occasionally carrying her around. It just seemed very unnatural to me; her interactions with her other two children were close and tender but in a normal way, with the expected stages of rebellion.

I like having “forgotten” authors who I can think of as my own. I know some of her books are available online, for anyone who is interested, and I hope to track down more hard copies as well.

Published in: on May 8, 2011 at 4:04 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: ,