Saturday, September 17, 2022

Advanced translation from French; thème agrégation; annotated translation from Gavalda

 This translation will stay on the blog for two weeks, so do download it if you need it . If you just chanced on the blog, the original passage translated can be found here

She recognised[1] me, too, and gave me a nice[2] smile as if[3] we had left each other only the previous day. I suggested we get off[4] at the next station to have a coffee. I could sense she was not too keen[5] but anyway, if I would like that[6], we could.[7]


To think she used to be so talkative,[8] so garrulous, and I had to drag every sentence out of her to get her to talk a bit about herself. Yes, her rent had got too high[9] and she had moved house. Yes, the estate was a little rough, but she had found a community spirit[10] there which she had never met with anywhere else. She was working[11] in a clinic[12] in the mornings, and did voluntary work the rest of the time. Sometimes people came to her house, otherwise she went to theirs.[13]

Anyway, she did not[14] really need money that much. It was a world where people bartered:[15] a dressing was exchanged for a plate of couscous, or an injection was given in return for a little plumbing work … She seemed[16] oddly calm[17], but she did not look unhappy either. She said she had never done[18] her job so well.

She felt she was useful[19] still; she got mad when people called her “doctor” and she swiped stuff on the sly from the clinic:[20] any medecines which were getting close to their sell-by date … yes, she was living on her own and “What about you?” she asked, “Tell me about you.”[21]

So I told her all about my own little routine,[22] but at one point I could see she was not listening any more. She had to go. Someone was expecting[23] her.

Tom and Debbie were married and both lectured[24] at Cornell. The other one, Ken, the tall man with lots of hair,[25] was a researcher. It seemed to him that Ken was always hanging around[26] Kate … he wondered if … well it was hard to say with these Americans, who were forever touching each other up[27] at every opportunity. And they were always calling everybody “sweetie” this and “honey” that and hugging and calling out “Give me a Kiss” right left and centre.

Charles could not care less. For the very first time in his life he had decided to let himself live. Let. Himself. Live. He did not even know if he was up to such a risky challenge.



Extrait de La Consolante d’Anna Gavalda, J’ai Lu, 2008[28]

[1] I am translating into British English. You may translate into US English, if you are sure you can, but naturally, you must be consistent.

[2] Not « kind », which tends to suggest that the person being kind is above or superior to the person they are being kind to.

[3] Although Gavalda’s style is fairly informal, a structure with « like » as a conjunction would be too informal here.

[4] Be careful. « Propose » would be very strange, and « suggest » does not take a verbal structure with « to get off ». This is a subjunctive. Compare : « I suggested she go in », « I suggested we go in ». In US English in particular, the subjunctive is often avoided by using « I suggested we should get off » (with identical meaning : that is to say without any moral implication) There are not a large number of subjunctives around in English these days, but after « suggest » or « recommend » they are often found. Otherwise after more literary prepositions « What though the tempest round me roar/ I hear the truth, it liveth » « What though the darkness gather round, songs in the night He giveth » https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=euwLf4YehoQ

[5] « Enthusiastic » is not good. Especially in informal style, it is very important to generally avoid Greek-based words like this one, or latinate words. Good, monosyllabic, Germanic words  are to be preferred. Someone tried « up for it » : I find this too slangy, but also it suggests a refusal to accept an activity, which is not the case here.

[6] Structures with « make me happy » sound too extreme. « If I fancied doing that » is good. Someone was tempted  by an expression with « be down ». It seems this is vaguely US slang. The problem is not that it is from the US, but that it is slang. Gavalda’s style is informal, but it is not full of « kiffer » and « seum », «PLS» and « askip » so slang is not justified. As a general rule, the agrégation jury will not include current slang in passages.


[7] Les « points de suspension » do not really exist in English.

[8] « Chatty » is fine.

[9] Note that the rent may be « high », but it cannot be « expensive » since you are not buying the rent. This is a difference with the French, (les loyers sont très chers).

[10] « Solidarity » is possible  here, but is not as good.

[11] In this case, a structure with « would » sounds wrong. I think it is because we are in a preterite of indirect speech, rather than underlining the past nature of the event. I chose to use an -ing, suggesting that the activities were in some way temporary, but you may omit the be +ing.

[12] « Dispensary » is rather too formal.

[13] A structure with « would » is also good « People would go to her houser, or she would go to theirs.

[14] Since the style is rather informal, one could argue for contractions here and there, but it is safer to avoid them.

[15] « It was a world of swapping », « a world where people swapped things » is almost as good. Notice that in this sentence, as very often when translating into English, it is highly recommended to add verbs. Someone tried «  a barter world ». this is impossible – a classic overuse of the compound noun.

[16] Not « she looked … » which would only refer to what the narrator saw, not to a wider impression.

[17] Not « quiet », which would refer only to not making noise, rather than to exuding tranquillity.

[18] Not « practised » (which is, as often, a gallicism). « To practise » is used most often for a repetitive action aimed at improving performance.

[19] « Helpful » is an under-translation.

[20] « Sneaked stuff out of » is very good.

[21] Although Gavalda does not punctuate, I recommend adding the punctuation. Modern English novels generally do.

[22] Something with « humdrum » would be fine, but « daily grind » is too negative in connotation.

[23] « Expecting »  is definitely better than « waiting for » which suggests that she is late.

[24] Or « were professors ». Adding verbs when translating into English is generally a good thing though. « Taught » is an undertranslation, and might refer to a far less prestigious professional activity.

[25] « Hairy » for some reason has a rather negative connotation, and would involve a beard. « With long hair » is possible, but is more precise than « chevelu ».

[26] « Flirting with » would be an over-translation. « Hovering round » is good.

[27] Notice that the « up » makes this sound a little indecent. [perhaps you remember that « up » as a particle on a phrasal verb tends to mean « completely »] « Feeling each other up » is possible. « Touching each other » is a slight undertranslation, but acceptable I would think. « They were always groping each other », is good.

[28] Almost all the passages we will be translating are from recent prize winning novels in French (since this seems to be the policy of the agrégation jury).

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