PUBLISHERS OF LITERARY FICTION SINCE 1983
The protagonist of Diego Marani's The Interpreter heads out across Europe to find a man who may be able to tell him why he has begun speaking in tongues. The strange language is only recognisable as the gibberish a former UN interpreter began translating work into before mysteriously disappearing.
The Interpreter is gloriously grotesque and as witty and profound as Marani himself. The Interpreter follows on from New Finnish Grammar and The Last of the Vostyachs to form a trilogy on the theme of language and identity. The blurb should issue a warning to interpreters and linguists, as this is the most frightening take on their profession ever! Attention les interpretes! It is a macabre linguistic thriller and with it Marani has possibly pioneered a new genre, l’interprete noir. Was he trying to get himself fired from the Brussels bureaucracy? Or maybe working in a Brussels DG drives people mad?
.Intrigued? The Interpreter is Kafka meets Kazuo Ishiguro meets Dr. Who: read it and you’ll know what I mean. Carefully crafted, psychologically intriguing and philosophically profound, I was convinced on all levels. And the translation is beautiful. Judith Landry has translated all Marani’s novels – he’s lucky to have her.
The energy and momentum of the book, translated into English by Judith Landry, makes The Interpreter an enjoyable read rich with insight into how languages shape our lives and in the first half of the book, a provocative and curious cast of side characters.
Bellamy, a cerebral character, is much given to examining the effect of multilingualism on his own and the interpreter’s personality. What I found more engaging, in fact frightening, was the description of his uncontrollable lapses into warbles and whistles, his loss of intelligible language. Then there are the car chases and dices with death - almost light relief by comparison. The Interpreter has been beautifully translated by Judith Landry.
... a mesmeric novel about communication.
The Interpreter isn't merely the sequel to New Finnish Grammar and The Last of the Vostyachs: it is a singular and deeply felt thesis, a warped manifesto of sorts, derived from a career spent immersed in languages. For Marani is up to his old tricks. Like in its predecessors, the novel comes dripping in satire, but this time of a more avowedly self reflexive nature... A primordial, universal language is the trick, and it is this which, and it is this with which Marani's interpreter, the shape-shifter at the heart of this masked ball of a novel, purports to have 'infected' Felix. His 'incomprehensible blather' might in fact be 'the ancient language of Eden, the one in which the serpent spoke to Adam'. Marani's ideas are typically far-reaching and provocative.
This is more of a romp than the other two novels, more comedic, albeit a very dark kind of comedy; part investigation into the properties of language, part thriller. The only lead Bellamy has is a list of seemingly random cities: Vancouver, San Diego, Papeete, Vladivostok, Odessa … At one point he is sent to a sinister therapeutic institution, where patients are taught languages unknown to them in order to address their problems (Bellamy is assigned Romanian. Each language has its own therapeutic effect, but “English is the language of cowards and queers,” says an inmate angrily at one point, which is certainly a new way of looking at it).
When we find out what links the list of cities together we realise that we have, in a most enjoyable way, been subject to a kind of superior shaggy dog story. Marani understands the appeal of the idea of the primordial language, but knows well enough that it is a Snark, a chimera, which is why the novel ends the way it does, why it is deliberately not as haunting as Grammar and Vostyachs, and also why Marani says this is the last time he’ll address the subject in fiction. It is excellently translated by Judith Landry, who I hope is not suffering like Marani’s characters.
The Interpreter is a great read...The Interpreter may be saying something significant and even profound about languages - and about the origins of language, the language of Adam and Eve in a manner of speaking - in a playful and deliberately irreverent manner.