Reading Annie Ernaux’s Happening. I am suspicious of its translation into English.
Ernaux writes: “En regardent la silhouette frêle, en imperméable, du petit employé, ses humiliations, devant la désolation sans espoir du film, je savais que mes règles ne reviendraient pas.” This is translated as: “As I watched the frail figure of the boy in his cheap raincoat, the humiliations he suffered during his pathetic existence, somehow I knew the bleeding would not come back.” I consulted the original because “pathetic existence” didn’t ring true, seeming like poor writing. But it isn’t apparently what Ernaux intended, I assume, more a statement on the mood, “hopeless desolation” perhaps, of the film.
Earlier, Ernaux writes: “Comme la dernière fois, des hommes attendaient, groupés au pied métro aérien.” Again I looked up the original because it is translated as: “Like last time, men were idly waiting, clustered at the foot of the Métro overhead.” That “idly” jarred as another piece of sloppy writing. How do you wait “un-idly”? But the adverb isn’t present in the original.
Further on, Ernaux uses the phrase: “pensant sans arrêt que je n’avais pas mes règles,” which is translated as: “obsessed with the fact that I no longer had my period”. There is a gulf of difference between obsession and perhaps, “thinking all the time”. The psychoanalytic jargon is used a few pages on when, “Je résistais sans pouvoir m’empêcher d’y penser à net événement. M’y abandonner me semblait effrayant” is translated as “Despite my efforts to fight it, I became obsessed with the idea. Obeying this impulse seemed a terrifying prospect.” Both “obsessed” and “terrifying” seem to escalate and change the tone of Ernaux’s prose considerably.
Although this translation reads fluidly enough, it seems to distort the original more than necessary. Translator friends with French: am I nitpicking? For now I’m going back to Alison L. Strayer’s translation of The Years, which seems to my amateur eye a more reliable rendition that is a considerable literary achievement in its own right.