The Commandments – Óskar Gudmundsson

Screenshot 2021-11-30 at 21.22.23Title – The Commandments

Author – Óskar Gudmundsson (translated by Quentin Bates)

Published – October 2021 (in English translation)

Genre – Crime fiction

The Commandments is Guðmundsson’s third book, published in his native Icelandic in 2019, and the English translation is brought to us by the partnership of new publisher Corylus Books and author/translator Quentin Bates. Guðmundsson is also part of the current team organising the Iceland Noir crime fiction festival.

The opening of the book felt quite disjointed with some scene-setting from 1995, tense and graphic scenes that will make much more sense when the rest of the story has unfolded. Persevere!

Then we meet Salka Steinsdótti, standing in the middle of a stream in northern Iceland. Fishing aside, she has returned to Iceland from London and is in the midst of a divorce from her husband. After a murder which is connected to a case she investigated before she left Iceland she is co-opted by the local police to lead the investigation. This is where the story really takes off as it becomes a police procedural – albeit a dark and gruesome one.

The murder victim is a former priest who was investigated by Salka in 2010 following allegations of sexual abuse. Although he walked free at the time it appears that someone has waited to take their revenge. In order to succeed in leading the investigation Salka must deal with the resentment of the local police at her appointment, the inexperience of the young officer who is helping her and her own emotional baggage. In the course of the investigation – and a race to save other potential victims – she comes across the case of a missing teenager who was last seen with the dead priest in 1995; adding another layer of complexity as she tries to unpick the original, half-hearted, investigation into the boy’s disappearance. This is a small place and everyone seems to be connected – what a tangled web!

The theme – the sexual abuse of young boys by members of the Church – is obviously a disturbing one but despite the graphic scenes at the beginning of the book there is more left to the imagination of the reader than is described, however this isn’t at the expense of tension in the plot.

What the author doesn’t give us, though, is a feeling for the location. The book is a character study with Salka as the contemporary heroine but what you won’t get is a picture of the Icelandic setting.

I knew that the translation would be in safe hands – Quentin Bates is, first and foremost, a an author in his own right – which means that the English version the book is seamlessly translated.

Many thanks to the publisher for the review copy.


Resilience – Bogdan Hrib

thumbnail-2Title – Resilience

Author – Bogdan Hrib (translated by Marina Sofia)

Published – August 2021 (in English translation)

Genre – Crime fiction

I met Bogdan when he was appearing at Iceland Noir in 2014. A Romanian author, he took part in a panel on translating crime fiction across cultures – slightly frustrating for those of us who only read in English as there was  nothing available to us on our language. Step in Corylus Books, a new publisher specialising in translating European crime fiction.

Bogdan Hrib’s books are a crime fiction series featuring Stelian Munteanu, a book-editor with a sideline doing international police work, and Resilience is the sixth book in the series. The plot is both crime fiction and political thriller – so often the best crime fiction really connects with readers by reflecting the current broader state of affairs and prompts the reader to think about issues and not just focus on the ‘whodunnit’.

Stelian Munteanu has had enough of fixing other people’s problems: all he wants to do is make the long-distance relationship with his wife Sofia work.

But when a notorious Romanian businessman asks him to investigate the death of his daughter in the north of England, he reluctantly gets involved once more. This time it turns into a tangled web of shady business dealings and international politics.

Moving rapidly between London, Newcastle, Bucharest and Iasi, Resilience shows just how easy and dangerous it is to fall prey to fake news and social media manipulation.

The story makes the most of contemporary themes of nationalism, how this manifests itself in division, and how the masses can be influenced by those who have the power (or money) to create fake news and exploit social media followers.

The translation by Marina Sofia is seamless – in fact it wouldn’t be something that I would comment on unless I was considering the book for a review, if you read a book and the language flows perfectly it’s probably something that wouldn’t register.

This is the sixth book in the series and if did feel like I was missing some of the background / backstory. There is obviously a history between the main characters and I did feel, on occasion, that there was something in their past that was relevant but I wasn’t privy to it.

One of the advantages of reading translated fiction is that it can provide you with a feel for the author’s home country. While there was definite insights into the political landscape I didn’t really get a feel for the more physical one. Obviously an author writes the story he wants to tell and I’m not suggesting that they should include a travelogue in between the action but I would have liked to have found out more about Romania.

So ‘Resilience’ – can the characters adapt in order to survive – well you’ll need to read the book to find out!

Many thanks to the publisher for the review copy.


All This I Will Give To You – Dolores Redondo

Title – All This I Will Give To You

Author Dolores Redondo (translated by Michael Meigs)

Published – September 2018

Genre – Crime fiction

This has to be one of my favourite reads of the year so it’s quite remiss of me to have left it so long between reading and reviewing (9 months) but the fact that I can still remember it well enough to review says something about the quality of the book.

The initial premise of the story is one that’s not completely unfamiliar – novelist Manuel Ortigosa learns that his husband, Álvaro, has been killed in a car crash and then discovers that he didn’t know the man he married at all. So far, so similar to other books – but this has lots of very important differences. The main couple being gay is an obvious one, although it’s just a very matter of fact situation rather than feeling as if it’s for effect, the secrets that Álvaro has hidden from his partner are on a surprising scale and the reason for the deception is unusual.

When a shell-shocked Manuel attends his husband’s funeral he begins to understand the scale of the deception that he’s been subject to. Álvaro’s death is seemingly the result of a car accident and it’s clear that there is more to the death than meets the eye. Supported by two unusual allies – a retired policeman and an old friend of Álvaro’s, Manuel embarks on a difficult journey to uncover the truth, whatever it may cost him.

While this is crime fiction/thriller it’s a pretty long book (at almost 500 pages) and the story develops slowly, the lives of Manuel and his husband and the way Manuel deals with his grief are really important, so if you’re after a fast-paced thriller then this might not be for you. This really is at the ‘literary’ end of the genre, it’s beautifully written (and translated), compellingly evocative, and emotionally resonant. The story of the relationship between the two men is just as important as the investigation into Álvaro’s death. I’ve not read many books set in Spain and the author also does a great job of painting a vivid picture of the locations, creating a real sense of place and culture. The characters are all deftly drawn – recognisable, realistic and flawed, and the relationships are at the heart of the story.

Definitely one of the best books I read in 2019.

Many thanks to the publisher for the review copy.


The Silver Road – Stina Jackson

Title – The Silver Road

Author Stina Jackson (translated by Susan Beard)

Published – 2019

Genre – Crime fiction

This is a compelling and darkly atmospheric debut with a seamless translation by Susan Beard.

In a remote part of Northern Sweden middle-aged teacher Lelle spends the long summer nights searching The Silver Road – the main road linking the remote villages – for his teenage daughter. Three years ago he left her at a bus stop early one morning and she hasn’t been seen since, he makes the most of the midnight sun to explore the fringes of the road for any trace of her.

While he is doing this, teenage Meja moves to the area with her mother, Silje. They have come to live with a man her mother met online and Meja hopes that this will finally be the relationship her mother has been looking for.  It quickly becomes apparent that Silje has a whole host of problems, which may explain their previously rootless life. The isolation of the location is something new for Meja, who is keen to escape from her mother’s way of life, but nevertheless she manages to make friends with some young men who work on a nearby farm.

The two threads connect when autumn arrives and the school year begins, Lelle has to stop his search and return to teaching at the school where Meja is now a pupil.

It’s a slow burn of a book, but that is something you should expect from Nordic Noir. Lelle’s desperation is captured through the slow nights of his search and the seemingly futile efforts of the police. The setting is atmospheric and there is a dark intensity to the story that keeps you reading despite the lack of action. I liked the characters of Lelle and Meja, and as a flawed lead Lelle might have fitted into some recognisable stereotypes but there was nothing formulaic about him.

An unusual and compelling read. Many thanks to the publisher for the Netgalley.


The Exiled – Kati Hiekkapelto

Title – The Exiled

Author – Kati Hiekkapelto (translated by David Hackston)

Published – 2016

Genre – Crime fiction

This is the third book in translation from Finnish author Kati Hiekkapelto in her crime fiction series featuring Senior Constable Anna Fekete and the next book in the series after The Defenceless.

In The Exiled Anna has returned home from Finland for her holiday but on the evening of her arrival her handbag is stolen. The next day a man, presumed to be the thief, is found dead on the banks of the river. Anna’s training demands a thorough investigation by the local police but they are quick to wash their hands of the whole incident and close it as quickly as possible. Undeterred Anna pursues her own investigation, making the most of the resources she has and a burgeoning relationship with a local policeman.

Initially her focus is on the refugees who are living in camps in the area but a coincidence leads her to discover a much more personal connection to events and to distressing secrets at the heart of those she grew up amongst.

This is very much a book about home and family. While The Defenceless painted a picture of immigration in Finland, here it is her own home town that is under pressure from the refugee crisis, it’s also a place with a divided population  – Serbs and Hungarians and a small population of Romani. For Anna her return to Kanisza makes her consider if this is actually her home or if rather Finland is her home, and what ‘home’ means to her. At the same time she is spending more time with her family and the repetitive questions from all and sundry about ‘settling down and having children’ give her cause to reflect on the future. These aspects of Anna’s own story in the book and her relationships with her family which means this has a slower pace than other ‘police procedurals’ might.

Again this has a seamless translation without a moment when the writing reminded me that I was reading something which wasn’t originally written in English.

Thank you to the publisher of the review copy. You can see another point of view on Jackie’s blog ‘Never Imitate’.


The Iron Chariot – Stein Riverton (trans. Lucy Moffatt)

51cw35zyl0lTitle – The Iron Chariot

Author – Stein Riverton (translated by Lucy Moffatt)

Published – 2017 (in English) 1909 (in Norwegian)

Genre – Crime fiction

I was intrigued by the publisher’s description of this book as being one of the greatest Norwegian crime novels of all time. Abandoned Bookshop was publishing, in a modern translation by Lucy Moffatt, what may be the first commercially available English translation of The Iron Chariot. I’m not a fan of everything that’s ‘nordic’ but I thought this should be worth reading.

The quiet idyll of a summer retreat on a Norwegian island is disturbed by the discovery of the dead body of one of the guests. The circumstances make murder seem a possibility and the the local police seem ill-equipped to investigate, so Detective Asbjorn Krag is summoned from the capital of Kristiania to take charge. The story is narrated by one of the guests at the hotel, a young man who is staying there alone. The evening before the discovery of the body he was on a night-time walk and heard a mysterious noise – a rattling and thrumming which a local fisherman told him was the ‘Iron Chariot’, last heard some years previously on the night a local farmer died.

While the opening sees the first oppressive heat of the summer, the author uses the change in weather and landscape and moves a lot of action to the night to create a tense and atmospheric read. The pace is is a little slow but probably what what you would expect from a book of the period.  The investigations of the detective and unusual circumstances give a claustrophobic and disturbing feel as the story reaches its climax. The menace of the ‘Iron Chariot’ adds a potentially supernatural element to the story and the sinister occurrences take their toll on the narrator with an increasing feeling of oppression and sense of dread.

It’s easy to compare Krag with detectives like Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot (or even Columbo!). He’s an odd character who behaves a little strangely and appears to be taking an unconventional approach to solving the mysteries. His success in identifying the ‘Iron Chariot’ however, suggests that in the end he’ll get to the bottom of the murder.

The translation seems to be seamless, there’s never a word or phrase that jars. For a book that’s over a hundred years old it’s surprisingly readable and I’m sure this must owe something to the skills of the translator too! It’s remarkable when you consider the date this was published compared to other more ‘groundbreaking’ crime fiction authors who were writing in English, this really does seem to have been ahead of its time.

Well worth a read. Many thanks to the publisher for the review copy.


The Hermit – Thomas Rydahl

51mdiqrtcqlTitle – The Hermit

Author – Thomas Rydahl (translated by K E Semmel)

Published – 2014 (Oct 2016 in translation)

Genre – Crime fiction

This is another book that I’ve found a little puzzling. I think it’s been the mix of Canary Isles setting and Nordic Noir sentiment that made this quite a challenging read.

‘The Hermit’ is Erhard, a sixty-something Danish ex-pat who lives a reclusive life on Fuerteventura, earning a living as a taxi driver and sometime piano tuner. He is asked by a friend in the local police force to look at some pieces of a Danish newspaper that were found with the dead body of a baby boy. Although he can shed no light on the source or relevance of the newspaper he is galvanised into finding out more about the abandoned child. When the police are involved in a cover up Erhard takes drastic action to foil them and ends up in a bizarre situation as a result.

As well as being a story of detection and investigation it’s also Erhard’s story – a sort of reawakening for him. His is the only character that is really fleshed out – all the others seem to be less well defined. As the story unfolds he looks back on his life and some of his regrets and grasps some of the opportunities that are presented to him. This aspect of the book – the introspection and detail of his daily activities slows the pace down but there are some thrilling action pieces to balance this. His amateur investigation leads him down some paths he could never have anticipated and Rydahl delivers a complex and twisting plot. Although I picture the island to be quite a large place it seems to have a village mentality and it seems as if everyone knows everyone else’s business – including what Erhard is up to.

There are a few things hinted at in the book which never seemed to be fully explained and these are typical of Nordic fiction – a mysterious break up with his wife and the suggestion of an uncanny ability to find customers for his taxi. The author doesn’t shy away from more gory and graphic aspects of the story and shows a side of the location that holidaymakers might not be familiar with.

The book has won Rydahl many plaudits in Denmark including:

  • Winner of the Danish literary Debutant Prize 2014
  • Winner of the National Danish Crime and Thriller Prize 2015
  • Winner of the Nordic Crime and Thriller Prize “The Glass key” 2015

It will be interesting to see how the English translation is received.

Thank you to the publisher for the review copy.



The Ice Lands – Steinar Bragi

Title – The Ice Lands

Author – Steinar Bragi (translated by Lorenza Garcia)

Published – Oct 2016 (in English)

Genre – Crime fiction / Thriller / Horror

This came as an unsolicited review copy but I was intrigued by the cover and with an interest in all things Icelandic it pushed its way to the top of my TBR pile.

The story is about four friends and a dog who are on a camping trip in the volcanic wilds of Iceland. There are tensions between the four and they see the trip as away of mending their relationships but things have already become fraught early on in the journey when they crash in the middle of nowhere. They take refuge in an isolated farmhouse occupied by a mysterious elderly couple.

The efforts to resume their journey are thwarted – they fail to leave in their jeep, or in the car they borrow from the couple and even resorting to leaving on foot they end up returning to the dark and menacing house. At the times where they have put some distance between themselves and the house they make further mysterious discoveries in the wilderness – an abandoned car, an abandoned village on a cut-off ‘island’.

The inside of the house, farm and the couple are no less puzzling. They struggle to figure out the relationship between the uncommunicative man and woman, there are animals’ bodies on the doorstep and a hidden room that just adds to the mysteries.

As the story unfolds the backstory of the characters comes out which casts light on them both as individuals and on the relationships between the four of them. In some ways these feel like caricatures – this isn’t a criticism but it feels as if the author was using the four people to highlight some of the issues around the financial crash (the book was published in Iceland in 2011). Their lives and perspectives are quite exaggerated but their reactions to the events after they become stranded seem surprisingly relaxed.

I still don’t know what to make of this book. It was part crime, part thriller, part horror and part, well, just plain weird. I was really taken in by it. I didn’t particularly like the characters, but I wanted to know what happened to them (or what had happened to them). I didn’t have any issues with the writing or translation. There was probably too much of the characters’ backstory for me but the story was atmospheric, tense, dark – it really gripped me. But I just couldn’t figure out what was going on… Since finishing the book and while writing my review I’ve had a look to see what other people make of the book. There is a full synopsis on Wikipedia which tells me that it ‘enjoyed very positive reviews’ although it seems to be struggling to do so in the English translation. Perhaps it just isn’t reaching the right audience.

Thank you to the publisher for the review copy.


Mr. Miller – Charles Den Tex

41dD-rNkplLTitle – Mr. Miller

Author – Charles Den Tex (translated by Nancy Forest-Flier)

Published – 2005 (2015 in translation)

Genre – Thriller

When I posted the details of the long lists for the CWA Daggers I mentioned that it seemed odd not to have heard of all the books. Perhaps this means that a critically acclaimed book, whatever the genre, may not be commercially successful, or perhaps hasn’t had the same marketing push as others in the genre can afford. As a consequence of this post, however, I was offered a review copy of Mr Miller by Charles Den Tex which is on the long list for the John Creasey (New Blood) dagger.

The author is Dutch and the story is set in Amsterdam. Michael Bellicher is a consultant working for a company we can probably all recognise – a huge corporate monolith with thousands of workers of whom much is demanded. One Monday morning he accompanies his parents to meet his brother at Schipol Airport but something happens which shakes him so much that he goes on a drinking binge and misses crucial work appointments. On his return to the office he is so afraid that he will be sacked and won’t be able to get back into the building that he hides away overnight – but he is not the only person in the building. He witnesses something he shouldn’t have seen and this males him flee the office and as he tries to make sense of what happened he finds that he is now being hunted as the perpetrator of the crime.

What happens next is a real rollercoaster ride of a thriller. The premise is that ‘technology’ is at the root of Michael’s problems and the mysterious Mr. Miller, who has a network that not only knows everything about Michael but everything about everyone else too. The more he understands the way he is being hunted the more he must abandon the technology on which he normally relies – even his credit cards. Not only is he trying to clear his name (as the body count rises) but there is also a huge conspiracy which he needs to find a way to stop.

Dealing with issues around immigration and world stability this felt very timely. There are also some much more personal issues which Michael has to deal with, some of which I’ve not really come across in this genre before. (Intriguing, eh?)

The writing style is quite unusual and I’m sure in no small part due to the translator. Whilst the language feels deliberately styled to match the content of the plot it never feels stilted, nothing jars. It would be interesting to know what Dutch readers felt about the style.

What was surprising to me is that the book was originally published in 2005. The themes are so prescient I didn’t realise until I was writing my review that it was written more than ten years ago. For a book that features technology to such a high level it also stands the test of time – remarkable when you consider how quickly ‘tech’ can seem dated. Perhaps it all seemed more fanciful when it was published!

I have to confess that this probably isn’t a book I would have chosen to read if I had’t been offered the review copy. The story really delivers on the thriller aspects although I found some of the technology aspects a little distracting.

And how do I rate the CWA Dagger chances? Personally I preferred Rod Reynolds ‘The Dark Inside‘ but I have only read two of the longlist.



Behind the Scenes – the Translator

This is the second in my ‘behind the scenes‘ look at some of the often unsung heroes who help to bring us readers great crime fiction. This time my Q and A is looking at the role of the translator and Frank Wynne was kind enough to give up his time to answer my questions.

Frank is an award-winning translator, working from both French and Spanish, with three CWA International Dagger awards, twice winning the Premio Valle-Inclán, as well as winning the Scott Moncrieff Prize, the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize and the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. If you’re a reader of crime fiction you’ll probably be most familiar with his work through the books by Pierre Lemaitre.

You can find Frank on twitter under the name @Terribleman.

Was being a translator something you imagined you would do when you were at school?

Absolutely not! It never occurred to me that I would be ‘allowed’ to translate a novel – it seemed (and still seems) such a huge responsibility to take on the task of recreating the tone and styles of an author. I remember the author’s  note Barbara Trapido wrote in her novel “Brother of the More Famous Jack”, where she said that she wrote her first novel at 41 having previously believed that novels were written by people who were “dead or already famous”; I felt a little like that. I felt as though translators were from some alien world; that one could not simply become a literary translator.

I came to translation by accident. I moved to Paris at the age of 22 (having never been to France) and was surprised that i quickly became fluent in the language. I began to read compulsively. It was while I was reading La Vie devant soi by Émile Ajar (a pseudonym of Romain Gary) that I felt the urge – the need – to translate. But it did not occur to me even then that it was something I might do professionally. It was almost fifteen years later (while I was working for an Internet company, and spending weekends writing “reader’s reports” for publishers) that an editor asked whether I wanted to translate a novel – I was terrified but hugely excited. A couple of years later I gave up the day job so that I could translate full time.

Can you outline the process of translating a novel?

I will usually read a novel twice before beginning a translation. Once for the sheer excitement of the book, to enjoy its pleasures as a reader – whether plot, characterisation or language. The second time, I may slow down and consider the voice(s) in the text, the rhythms of the prose – occasionally I will find myself toying with English phrases as I read the second time.

Different translators approach a first draft in very different ways. I can spend a lot of time wrestling with a sentence / a paragraph to get the sound I feel I need, and I also litter the draft with footnotes to myself – highlighting passages I’m unhappy with, questions I want to ask the author, jokes or puns I think I need to work on. Once I’ve finished the first draft, I will usually write tot he author and explain my approach to the text, ask any questions that are niggling me as a reader and / or translator. In the second draft, I am already beginning to think of the book as English-language text – I find myself reworking phrases and images that seem too ‘lumpen’ in the English. I sometimes read passages – particularly dialogue – aloud to test whether I find them convincing.

Once delivered to an editor, it will usually be several weeks or months (once, more than a year) before I get editorial notes and comments. Coming back to a translation after a long period gives you a fresh eye – suddenly, solutions that were intractable seem obvious. Work on the third draft involves responding to the editor’s comments and suggestions. An insightful editor can flag a translator’s lexical tics and mannerisms, but also highlight phrases that feel literal or literal to his / her year. By this time, I am no longer referring back to the original text, but simply working with the English.

The last piece of tinkering comes when the publisher sends page proofs / galleys. Seeing a text typeset like a ‘proper book’ is another jolt and – while at this stage I am only supposed to correct errors and typos I often find myself reworking sentences and snatches of dialogue. It is almost compulsive, and it is important to know when to stop. I often say “a translation is near finished, only abandoned” (shamelessly paraphrasing W.H.Auden’s paraphrase of Paul Valéry).

Do you see the process as a collaboration with the author of the work?

By definition a translation is a war of collaboration even if the original author has been dead for centuries. But in practice, the process and one’s relationship with authors can vary enormously. Some are perfunctory and professional, some almost non-existent (I’ve had one author who – despite repeated emails – declined to respond to my queries), most involve discussions that are informative and revealing, a small few are truly personal. I have felt intimately close to authors I have never met, and I have also had good fortune to have one or two relationships with authors evolve into friendships. In the end, however, though translation is an act of collaboration (with author, editor, copy editor  and proof reader) it is the translator who must take responsibility for recreating a work. A musician can endlessly question a composer about the intent behind a piece of music, but when it comes to playing, it is the performer’s interpretation that is heard.

Do you work on more than one project at a time?

Very rarely – and it is something I can only do if the projects are very different, or are in different languages, otherwise I find that the voice of one book begins to bleed over into the other.

Translating is like an intimate conversation, with the translator listening intently and responding to the writer; it is difficult to do so with multiple authors without sacrificing that intensity.

How much influence can a translator have on the tone or feeling of a book?

In theory, a translator has absolute control over the tone or feeling of the translated work – unless the author is bilingual. In practice, we strive (and should always strive) to recreate a tone and feel which we hear orintit in the original. The process is, of course, profoundly subjective; the voice I hear may differ slightly form what another translator will hear – something that has become clear in the many “Translation Duels” in which I have participated over the years.

Every decision made by a translator – about tone and register, about the cadence or rhythm of a sentence – influences the tone of the work in English. To me, this is most apparent when translating dialogue, wordplay and idiomatic language which can have no direct equivalent in the target language. But if, at such point, a translator is called upon to invent, this is circumscribed by his or her understanding of the intent and impact of the original.

Most importantly, a translator needs an ear for music and for voice, it is this that has allowed me the privilege to ‘(re)write’ novels I could never imagine, to briefly ‘become’ authors from the wide world of Francophone and Hispanophone literature and, through language, to try to recreate narratives I love and admire.

You’ve translated a range of different genres and languages, which do you most enjoy and which provide the biggest challenges?

I enjoy working in most genres and do not have a particular favourite, but I think it is true that I enjoy working on novels with a playful or complex relationship to language.

It is often assumed that very “literary” novels, with highly poetic voices are most difficult to translate, but I find that, while it takes time to conjure the right voice for such books, once that voice is found it provides a solution to other spaces of the text.

There are two authors whose books I found both deeply challenging and profoundly rewarding. The first is Ahmadou Kourouma, one of the great 20th century African novelists, whose novels Waiting for the Wild Beasts to Vote and Allah is not Obliged I had the honour of translating. Kourouma’s novels are linguistically dense and his narrators employ the cadences of the West-African griot tradition. The text is peppered with words and expressions in Malinké, and evokes traditions and cultures that are very different form any I have experienced, yet the time I spent trying to recreate Kourouma’s prolix, poetic vernacular was a wonderful and cathartic experience. The second is Andrés Caicedo, whose novel, ¡Que viva la music! took me two years to translate. Cicero’s novel (published in English as Liveforever) is suffused with music, particularly the salsa dura of late 1970s Colombia, and the lyrical, hypnotic voice of the protagonist, Maria Carmen del Huerta, becomes a song on itself. Translating it, involved teasing out the hundreds of allusions to lyrics, song titles and film and literature threaded through the narrative, and weaving them into a new melody.

Often books are translate some time after publication in the original language, does that pose any problems for you?

Not particularly. While I like to be able to address questions to an author, at the end of the day much of what I do is about immersing myself in a text.

Is there a translation or a translator that you particularly admire?

There are many translations and translators I admire. Translations that have thrilled and excited me would include William Weaver’s translation of Calvino’s If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller and Lydia Davis’ version of Proust’s The Way by Swann’s (sadly, not all of the Penguin volumes of Proust are as near-perfect). In a very different register, Christopher Logue’s War Music – an “account” (he did not call it a translation) of several books of Homer’s Iliad is a luminous revelation. More recently, I admire the stunning work done by Anne McClean and Rosalind Harvey in translating Enrique Villa-Matas’ novel Dublinesque.

I admire all translators, they constantly remind me of the joys of what we do. But if I had to choose a living translator, it would be Margaret Jull Costa, whose seemingly effortless poise and mastery of source and target language leave me breathless.

And what book would you love to be asked to translate?

Too many – and most have already been translated. For a long time, my response would have been La Place de l’étoile by Patrick Modiano, but the Nobel Prize and a very supportive editor meant that I got to translate that in 2014.

What are you reading at the moment?

La gazelle s’agenouille pour pleurer – a book of short stories by the Togolese writer Kanji Alem, whose novel La Legend de l’assassin blew me away.

I’d like to thank Frank for taking the time to give such considered answers to my questions.