Thursday, June 23, 2016

Massive Books Addendum

Oh cruel fate, who waits until I have composed and posted a piece about massive books to put before me a massive book that I had been, lo these many long years, in search of for my own edification. The worst thing about blogs (Twitter, Facebook, self-publishing, etc.) is that bloggers can just put up whatever they feel like and the best thing about blogs is that the bloggers can just put up whatever they feel like. So here is my one book addendum to my massive books post from last week.

The Mysteries of Paris by Eugene Sue

When I realized I was writing a mystery/detective novel, I started digging deeper into the genre, learning more about its roots and reading more the pulp fiction that drew me to the form in the first place. I was already a fan of Edgar Allen Poe's detective stories (which are fucking quicksilver), the hardboiled Americans and Sherlock Holmes, but I wanted to know more. I wanted a deeper well to draw from as I played with the genre.

One book kept coming up as being a major early influence in mystery, detective, and pulp fiction, a serial novel set in the Parisian underworld: The Mysteries of Paris by Eugene Sue. But, despite being a smash bestseller in France (think of it as the equivalent of Dickens' serials, but perhaps even more popular) a major influence on Victor Hugo's Les Miserables, a fundamental work in terms of politics (again, much like Dickens) and a major part of French literature, including (I suspect at least) influencing Jean Genet, it wasn't available in English.

On the one hand, it was kind of shocking to be unable to find a reliable edition of what was so clearly an important book, but on the other hand, part of its importance made it particularly difficult to translate. Sue included argot, the dialect of the Parisian underworld, a dialect so distinct, he included footnotes to translate the argot for his French readers. Essentially, the translator has to translate two entirely different versions of French and to somehow do it while communicating how foreign each of the Frenches is to the other. It is a daunting task that forces a number of difficult decisions. Oh, and as, you've gathered, it's massive. As I finished the research for my detective novel and moved on to other projects, The Mysteries of Paris slipped to the back of my consciousness. And then, right after I post about massive books, there it is in the store's mystery section. There might have been a yelp of joy.

So, if you're a fan of pulp fiction, social realism, Les Miserables, slang, argot, crime fiction, stories with characters named Slasher and Schoolmaster and Songbird and Rudolphe (think you can spot the rich one?) that opens with a fight in an alley, and, of course, massive books, The Mysteries of Paris is another to add to the tower.

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