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5.0 out of 5 stars Dreams and passion in Sixties Paris, 18 April 2014
This review is from: (THAT MAD ACHE ) BY Sagan, Francoise (Author) Paperback Published on (05 , 2009) (Paperback)
This is one of those timeless, French, romantic novels that explore with great delicacy and style the eternal love triangle, in this case centring on Lucile, a thirty year old Parisian, and the two men she is attached to: Charles, fifty, a calm and compassionate businessman who loves her unconditionally, and Antoine, her own age, with whom she has a passionate, all-consuming affair. The action takes place over a year or so during which Lucile, bored by the secure luxury of her life with Charles, leaves him to live with Antoine, who works as a literary editor. Their summer of passion (the 'mad ache' of the title) is beautifully evoked: Sagan knew how to create the atmosphere of sexual attraction without needing much physical description of sex; she 'does love' consummately. But while Charles is well-off, Antoine isn't; that, and his insistence that Lucile should take more responsibility for her upkeep and future, puts her idle, indulgent life to the test. A crisis in her relationship with Antoine ends that summer of love with a dilemma, and in the process Lucile discovers an over-riding need to be free of the ties that bind: motherhood, marriage and work. For her, independence comes with a lack of responsibilities.

Curiously, though the flyleaf tells us that the novel is set in the 1960s, it feels as if it is set in an earlier period, like a novel that Colette might have written.

A very considerable bonus to this edition is a hundred page personal essay by the translator Douglas Hofstadter, who, being an American, translates it into American-English. In opening up the hidden world of the translator, he shows us how complicated the process of translation is, how much it can involve the translator at a deep personal level, how far removed it is from a straight transcription, how each sentence requires fine judgements of different kinds. It shows how much the translated text needs to be tested on native speakers of the original language as well as those who speak English (such as his mother). He compares his version with the only other English translation which was done in the 1960s by Sagan's one-time husband Robert Westhoff, finding fundamental differences in tone and choice as well as the occasional uncanny coincidence. In doing so, he likens the translator to a dog on or off the leash: on, the degree of freedom to recreate the text is limited, off, the translator becomes more of a literary artist himself. It's not just a question of literal meaning, it's more to do with idioms and the emotional temperature of the passage. I learnt a lot from this very readable essay; it was a brilliant idea to include it.

Altogether, a rather special book.
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