Nadine Gassie: Stephen King, a family affair

Henri Bovet, publisher at Slatkine & Cie found her translation remarkable “both literary and literal” of Alice Hoffman’s book Un mariage contre nature. A compliment that particularly struck Nadine Gassie, a specialist in literary translation for over 30 years now.

Fascinated by other cultures and all the literature that could come from abroad, it was the profession that she chose. Her first literary translation Me and my Mum by Marianne Hauser was entrusted to her by Joëlle Losfeld Publishing in 1994 just after having obtained her DESS in literary translation in Paris. Then, the adventure continued with Tim Winton, an Australian writer. Today that English literature enthusiast subscribes to Stephen King and even made it a family affair. Indeed, with her daughter, Océane Bies, who, according to her mother, “handles King’s language with great sensitivity, inventiveness and audacity, bringing it all the modernity due to her young age”, they are currently translating their sixth novel by this great American author entitled End of Watch, the last volume of the Hodges trilogy.

In this interview, our literary translation specialist tells us her story, the way she approaches Stephen King novels and reveals her future plans.

How did you come to translate Stephen King’s works?

It is a matter of coincidence, chance and encounters, it’s also the magic of life. I worked for twenty years with the publisher Dominique Autrand who got me started at Albin Michel. One day, I was trusted with a Stephen King novel and I was pretty terrified. But, in any case in literary translation, it will always give you things that confuse you. It felt like I wouldn’t be able to do it. And then, we face some obstacles which must be overcome and we realize that they are a springboard. Every time the book arrives, I know that it is going to take me out of my comfort zone, that it is going to take me further and finally going to change me.
When I was asked to translate Lisey`s Story by Stephen King, I confess that I hadn’t really read his works. I considered him as a minor author. Besides, I think a lot of people consider him as such even though he is a major author. However, I myself had made this step to go to him just before my publisher offered me to translate one of his books. I had read On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft in which he recounts how he became a writer. So there I was, buying myself that book for Christmas. And just after, I was offered my first Stephen King novel. Again, this is the effect of coincidence. It came at the right time. Then, little by little, I translated a second, a third and now with my daughter, we are translating them all. We’ve been attached to Stephen King for a few years.

What difficulties have you faced?

Stephen King is a master writer, he is training us. For me, a good metaphor for literary translation is mountaineering. We’re roped in, there’s a first rope that opens the road through the glaciers and, if it’s solid, we can follow it without any problem. King, he’s an exceptional leader, so we follow him with confidence. And all the issues of literary translation, he is the one who teaches us to solve them. I would also describe him as a hyper-contemporary writer. That is, he works with very modern and developed language. So there are language issues that are really important to him. It makes us travel through time and space in our psyche and in the collective psyche. If we do not take into account all these jumps in space and time, we can arrive at a text which will still have the entertaining aspect but which will lose all its relief. So for me, Stephen King is a very contemporary challenge with very elaborate language which seems very simple but which is highly complex.

What is your relationship with the authors you translate?

To translate an author, it is important to read their works, to know how they write, how they evolve and how they work. After that, getting to know the person, I don`t think that it is essential, it isn’t even useful because the author is in their texts and it was there that we met. I would say that it can be harmful. Indeed, too close a relationship between author and translator can become embarrassing because the translator has a privileged place and at the same time almost indecent. We delve into the material, we enter its intimacy in a certain way. And it may end up being disturbing. We must therefore stick to the text where everything is said. And, if you want to know the author better, you can consult interviews by journalists. Finally, in regard to the language, contemporary and cultural phenomena… The Internet is a very good source.

You translate love stories as well as horror novels. What genre do you prefer?

Me, I like surprises. I mainly translate novels and short stories but I don’t really have a preferred genre. In fact, I like that an author can enchant me, transport me and transform me. Fantasy and love satisfy all these criteria. For the moment, I am translating a Stephen King novel with my daughter. And then, I don`t know what book I am going to work on but I know that it will be great.

What writer would you like to translate and why?

I’m so delighted with Stephen King, it’s a wonderful gift. But, I would like to continue to translate certain authors. Unfortunately, publishers often do not respond. There are writers who are abandoned on the side of the road and I think that its a shame. I particularly think of Mélanie Rae Thon. This American author made a masterly and very poetic work on language. And I am convinced that when we do work on language, we transform the human. Yes, that’s it, I really believe in the power of literature, poetry as a way to change the world.
Otherwise, I would like to retranslate it as well. I think among other things of André Markowicz, an outstanding translator who retranslated the works of Fyodor Dostoevsky and Shakespeare. He did an incredible job of modernizing the translations. Personally, I would like to retranslate William Faulkner. It is very ambitious, I don’t think they will ever ask me but why not. And finally, I would like to work on the novel by J.D. Salinger, Catcher in the Rye, entitled in French L’Attrape-cœurs. It has been retranslated multiple times but I think that it still hasn’t found the right tone. So if it was offered to me, I’d like to try it myself.

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Nadine Gassie: Stephen King, a family affair
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