French literature holds a special place in the minds of academics, scholars and many people throughout the world, whether it is read in original language or in translation.
As the literary lingua franca in the 18th Century and with many native French writers achieving international fame over the years, French literature is a source of great pride for the French. Its reputation precedes it but now it seems that French literature, along with literature from other countries, is not as popular as it once was.
According to English PEN, “future geniuses comparable to Murakami or García Márquez might never become accessible to English readers” because of UK publishing houses’ limited acceptance of translated literature. Just 3% of literature in the British market is translated, which seems shocking in comparison to say France, where “A staggering 40 per cent of books published…have been translated from English.”.
So, what makes the UK literature market such a challenge for translated literature? Potentially there are many different reasons behind this. One is perhaps the economical practicality of publishing a translation and the added difficulty involved in marketing and publicising. Another, maybe, is the limited number of people in the publishing industry who speak a foreign language. Could this mean that books are being overlooked?
Those in support of literary translation for the British market may point to the success of Scandinavian crime novels – these have been a sure-fire hit and this inspires hope that other foreign literature might receive the same eager, hungry welcome from British readers. Has the success been hyped up by the media though? Does a good translation stand a chance of great UK fame if the media doesn’t sink its teeth into it first?
There is a long history of novels and translation across countries. Many very famous novels have been translated from Latin or from Ancient Greek. Can these be referred to in the same breath as the crime novels filling the bookshelves (both virtual and real) of the UK?
The question remains, as with any language barrier, are we missing out on something if we are not provided with the opportunity to read something from another culture through translation? Unless we learn several languages, surely there is a chance that many great ideas and fascinating plots are passing by the British reader?
What are some of your favourite novels? Have they been translated into other languages? If not, what do you think makes them a good contender for a foreign literature market? We’d love to hear your thoughts.
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