The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell
Vietnamese title: Đồng Hồ Xương
English to Vietnamse. Translated 2015, first printed 2016. Tre Publishing.
David Mitchell is one of my favourite contemporary authors. Suffice to say I once fantasized that my other half had a job transfer to Cork so we could be his neighbour. (Dear Mr. Mitchell, please do not be alarmed if you are reading this. I am not a stalker at all, honest! ).
There are two key things to Bone as a translation project: the different voices of the six narrators and the “psychosoteric” vocabulary.
The six narrators, in order of appearance, are:
- A runaway female teenager in Thatcher’s Britain
- A male twenty-something Cambridge student in the 90s
- A thirty five year old war correspondent in the noughties
- A middle age ex best-selling author in our times.
- An “Atemporal” character fighting the ultimate Good versus Evil war.
- A nice old granny (who, by the way, was our runaway teenager in part one) witnessing the collapse of civilization.
I dealt with this by switching the dominant regional accent between parts of the book (roughly Vietnamese south, north, south-ish, very posh north, neutral and friendly south). I also paid attention to the colloquial words and pronouns used (pronouns are important and flexible social markers in Vietnamese). I believe I achieved a distinct tone for each of the six different voices. (If I have another person writing to the publisher to complain that my book must have been translated by two different people, I will be very pleased). Having said that, in hindsight, some of the dialogue could have been a tad smoother.
I am very happy with the “psychosoteric” vocabulary. At first I was thinking of presenting a glossary to my editor, complete with rationale and everything. I then realized that no one else was going to be interested in my rationale. It has to make sense first time, really. So I treated the editor like another one of you dear readers.
If she returned a question mark, instead of explaining and defending my choice I would simply come up with another solution.
I am happy to say I didn’t get any question mark (or multiple exclamation marks) back.
As usual I have scrambled the order of the extracts.