Translated Accounts (Seeker 8. Warburg 5:15.99) 0...

Novel’ is how James Kelman subtitles his latest work, an

admonition which can seem an unnecessary, slightly self-important tendency in writers (‘forget everything else you’ve read. This is a novel!). You wouldn’t, for example, expect the words ‘A Film to flash onto the screen during the opening credits. Yet, in the case of Translated Accounts, with its unusual structure and bold, innovative use of language, the caption appears to serve as a necessary reminder.

Kelman’s novel is set in an unnamed military regime, redolent of Bosnia during the Balkans conflict though, with no contemporary references, it could easily take place in some fictional union of all those states where random atrocities are carried out. Different reactions to the conflict

are rendered through a series of anonymous, first-hand accounts which have been crudely translated into English, either by the participants themselves or by translators unfamiliar with the language.

This method allows Kelman to move from amorphous, subjective ramblings to considered philosophical statement, a device which requires tenacity in the opening stages as the reader settles into

the book’s particular rhythm.

Typically, some of the accounts provide an insight into a mind or situation and are intimate, visceral. Others are fluent, unfettered tales of arrests, disappearances, assaults and executions while others are brief episodes, at first sight humdrum, though ultimately transformed by observations or events. In one scene, a character drinking coffee in a restaurant is busily engaged in passing snooty comment on those around him when shots are fired. What’s effective is not so much the incident itself as the character’s calm,

nonchalant reaction.

Though his most challenging, experimental work to date, Translated Accounts finds Kelman exploring familiar themes with characteristic flashes of wry humour. His characters express the tiny pleasures that


Telling Lies

Sophie Marceau’s similes are like a schoolgirl’s diary

108 THE LIST 7—21 .Jun 2001

"‘. '..h 0‘ 5' .“

Kelman vents his political spleen with wry humour

make life worth living, idealism in the face of oppression, issues of state intervention verses individual freedom, loneliness, guilt, the frustrations of human connection.

The Accounts is also perhaps the most explicit demonstration of Kelman’s fascination with language and his almost superhuman ear for the way people communicate, as well as a celebration of the poetry

and simple clarity of expression that can be achieved in

a foreign tongue. In this respect, the tales beg to be recorded, or dramatised, or at least read aloud.

Despite its pleasures, Translated Accounts is overlong and at times, deeply frustrating. Kelman occasionally takes time out to vent his political spleen, attacking controlling governments and self-centred individuals and pointing out the fine line between government spin and propaganda, in portions of the novel that would sit more comfortably in one of his extended essays.

Yet, just when the temptation arises to pitch this

Sophie Marceau IS one of France's most famous actresses. Brave/feart and The World /s Not Enough have seCured her the international recognition. if not reputation. of Juliette Binoche. She's as pretty as fellow French stars Emmanuelle Beart and Isabelle Adiani and she has been voted the woman most French men w0u1d like to sleep with.

And if this slim debut IS anything to go

by. she's something of a prick tease. Our

narrator here is an unnamed famous French actress who is outwardly confident, inwardly inseCure. Her wandering memoir recalls the early days of her career, love affairs. etc. But these recollections are the vague. contradictOry ones of the unreliable narrator.

Furthermore. the numerous similarities between the narrator's life and Marceau herself make it difficult to tell where she ends the fiction and begins the autobiography: both began acting at thirteen years of age. live in Paris. had

difficult, infuriating book into the bucket, the author re- engages interest through the personal accounts of his characters, fully-fleshed and fallible in the typical Kelman mode. (Allan Radcliffe)

an affair With an older filiiimalxer and have a child.

Certainly, Marceau's life is Me stuff of fiction: she grew up in the Parisian Suburbs as frumm Sophie Maupu. daughter of a truck driver. now she trades tongues and blows with (7-07 and half her c0untr\ wants to sleep Willt l‘tor. But though the raw material is there. Marceau's writing is dreadful.

For a start. she uses more similes than. you'd find in a schoolgirls diam: ‘l rash clean my Sins even; evening flkf" a little pair of knickers. Eek. Someone had put their hand on mt. shculder. like a dove bearing news'. Ouch. Then there are the numbing DlillOSOlJlilCiil musings: Everything is a story exen second cf life tells a stony. but what wt? death remember?‘

Not Telling Lies. tnat's for su'e, lit/lame somethings been lost n the transit/incl". but certainly not the set-indulgence. Marceau got this publishing (lea! out, because she's a famous actress. Tl‘at's terrible and so is the book. ilees Fielder


Fiction & Biography

First writes

Putting debut novelists under the microscope. This issue: Anne Donovan

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