Back in January, I enjoyed Alison Anderson’s excellent literary translation of French author Hélène Grémillon’s psychological thriller The Case of Lisandra P., a stirring exploration of Argentina in the 1980s. The novel is told from the perspective of a therapist and his patients, many of whom grapple with the traumatic legacy of Argentina’s CIA-backed dictatorship. Gremillon uses an inventive mixture of recorded therapy sessions, police interrogations, and first person perspective, layering multiple perspectives to slowly round out the murder plot. The therapist, accused of murder after his wife’s fatal plunge from a high window, enlists one of his patients to assist in his own investigation into the murder.
Alison Anderson has translated numerous works of literary fiction, including the bestselling novel Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barberry. She has also written her own works of fiction, including most recently The Summer Guest, a historical re imagining of a young Chekhov, the novel he might have written, and the work’s unintended consequences. In honor of International Crime Fiction Month, and as part of our blog’s support for fiction in translation and the professionals who make that happen, I asked Alison if I could send along a few questions. She was kind enough to let us interview her on about her work on The Case of Lisandra P. and about translation in general.
Interview with a Translator: Alison Anderson on Hélène Grémillon’s The Case of Lisandra P.
Molly Odintz: The Case of Lisandra P. has an Argentinean setting, yet a French author – does it feel different to translate a book that takes place where the author lives, versus a setting somewhat foreign to the author?
Alison Anderson: This did feel somewhat unusual; I couldn’t say that I could “hear the Spanish” behind the French – I don’t even know if Hélène speaks Spanish (and I don’t) – but I do remember one passage where I had to contact a French-speaking Argentinian friend to untangle what might be the best translation in English for a tricky cultural issue.
What is great about translating mysteries and crime novels is the suspense: I don’t read the whole book first anymore, as I used to, before translating; this keeps the language fresh, and above all the suspense keeps me going and I look forward to my daily “installment” of work. So certainly work-wise mysteries may be my favorite genre!
MO: How did you come to translate The Case of Lisandra P.?
AA: I had translated Hélène’s previous book, The Confidant, for the same publisher, and they contacted me regarding this new one.
MO: The Case of Lisandra P. has a number of character perspectives with unique voices – did any pose a challenge to translate? Which character’s perspective most interested you?
AA: I would say they were each challenging in their own way—to keep their specific voices, to convey their character just through dialogue and the briefest of descriptions (Hélène uses very little description). I felt the most sympathy for Eva Maria, and tended to get quite impatient with Vittorio and even Lisandra herself, but I suspect this is somewhat intentional on the author’s part.