Food for Thought

A Developing Taste

It’s not often I can find any goodness in budget airlines, their only uplift is technical, but, I reckon it’s mostly down to Ryanair and EasyJet, that European literature is on the rise in the UK.

Fifteen years ago the change in UK eating habits was laid at the door of low-cost foreign travel. Those Monarch charter flights to Corfu from Luton Airport in the 80s lead to the flourishing of many a taverna on a London high street, and then summer sojourns in Tuscany and Dordogne fuelled our desire for real pasta and Terrine de Canard – Spaghetti Hoops and Shippam’s Duck Paste would no longer hack it, dinner party-wise.

And now, with cheap breaks available almost anywhere at a click, it’s no wonder that we’ve developed a taste for European literature, albeit in translation. Just as it’s impossible not to be wooed by the delight of an Osso Buco served on a small Florentine piazza, or a delicately pan-roasted Magret de Canard enjoyed on a terrasse in the Medoc, it was inevitable that having exposed ourselves to such foreign pleasures, we have now gone on to explore the narrative worlds from which those delights originate.

A Pressing Matter

The UK newspaper, The Guardian, reports that “British readers are lost in translations as foreign literature sales boom” and goes on to delineate chapter and verse. All of which is most heartening.

But translated foreign fiction is not a new phenomena. The British newspaper, The Independent inaugurated The Independent Foreign Fiction Prize in 1990, an annual award which honours the best work of fiction by a living author which has been translated into English from any other language and published in the United Kingdom. Uniquely, it gives the winning author and translator equal status – each receives £5,000 – recognising the importance of the translator in their ability to bridge the gap between languages and culture.

The prize tends to attract works which are seriously literary, there are no summer beach reads or lusty bodice-rippers here; IFFP winners include authors Milan Kundera, José Saramago, W.G. Sebald and Orhan Pamuk. Gourmet fare, often not easily digested.

A Recipe for Success

But it would seem that in the wake of low-cost foreign travel, and a recent embrace of European television dramas – The Killing and The Bridge from Scandinavia and Les Revenants (The Returned) from France for example, we are now allowing ourselves the guilty pleasures that can be found in more popular foreign literature such as that by Jo Nesbø, Stieg Larsson and Haruki Murakami.

The menu might be more Pizza Margherita than Pappardelle Marsala, or Croque Monsieur rather than Clapassade, but this welcome excursion into untrodden regions of foreign literature represents not only a broadening of the collective mind but also a feast for translators everywhere.

Long may it continue.

The Menu