Genre: Experimental, Dystopia
Narrative style: a variety of first person accounts from a number of unnamed people.
Synopsis: A series of nameless narrators tell of their life in what seems to be some sort of police state. There are rules and securty forces and the narrators seem concerned about conforming or otherwise. The accounts are supposed to have been translated from the original language by some Government authority and as a result they are somewhat alienating to read.
Challenges: TBR Pile Challenge
Time on shelf: I bought this in about 2003, not long after I had finished my MPhil, in which I wrote about A Disaffection and How Late it was How Late both of which I really enjoyed. However, I felt the need to read less challenging books for a while after finishing my thesis so this got stuck on the shelf as I knew it was likely to be difficult.
This was a real slog and it is a long time since I have felt so pleased to have finished a book. In fact, if not for the fact of reading it for the TBR Pile Challenge I might have abandoned it. I knew it wasn’t likely to be an easy read but I had no idea of the problems I was going to have with it.
There are a number of things that make this difficult to read. The first is that not only are none of the narrators named but neither are any of the characters. They are referred to as woman, wife, mother and so on. This means that there is no continuity and it is even more difficult to tell which narrator is which. It also means that no character stands out and so there is no one for the reader to attach themselves to or be concerned for.
There is very little detail about the society although you can glean that people are frightened and that they’re ruled by some all powerful higher authority but the rules are never really explained and as there is very little action the plot moves very slowly.
Finally, the language is disjointed and does sound a lot like it has been translated from another language. It is as if the fracturing of society has had a fracturing effect on the language of its people. Again, this makes it difficult to read.
I realise that what I’m viewing as problems might very well have been Kelman’s intentions and I understand the points he is trying to make about the way a police state would strip its members of individuality and make it difficult to discuss anything openly. It was an interesting experiment although ulitmately, I think, a failed one.
2 thoughts on “Books Read in 2014 – 16. Translated Accounts by James Kelman”
Is it genuinely translated from a different language? Or was that just for artistic effect? I guess sometimes ‘abstract art’ doesn’t translate so well in book form. Nice review!
It is just for effect. It’s an interesting idea but one that didn’t really work out.