A happy weekend spoilt
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A happy weekend spoilt

HAPPY WEEKEND
by Immanuel Mifsud; translated by Rose Marie Caruana, Mary Darmanin, Albert Gatt and Maria Grech Ganado
Midsea Books pp132, ISBN: 99932 7 101 2

Long has there been a need for contemporary Maltese literature to be offered to the readers of other languages through translation, be it in English or any other widely-spoken tongue. Quite a lot has been achieved in this respect over the past couple of years, particularly in the field of poetry: As good examples, we have the series of six booklets of Contemporary Maltese Literature in Translation edited by Inizjamed, Irish poet Maurice Riordan's excellent English rendering of selected verses by Immanuel Mifsud in the very professionally designed Confidential Reports, and the delicious bilingual edition of Mifsud's KM, a book of travel poetry further enriched by the high-quality translations offered by Maria Grech Ganado. Yet the translation of prose is another kettle of fish, and is not necessarily easier.

With today's Maltese literature becoming ever more engaging and appealing, one would hope that Happy Weekend, a collection of short stories taken from several of Mr Mifsud's books poured into English by four different translators, would be another good step in the direction taken by the publications mentioned above. Albert Gatt's translations are outstanding: reading his version of Zerafa, for example, gives the same delectable knot in the stomach and wide-opening eyes as the original, and maintains Mr Mifsud's skill in being able to say a great deal more than he silences. The stories Happy Weekend and Angela, Jane and Lina are also very well translated, as is The Black Night of the Shearwaters, in which Rose Marie Caruana appears to find no trouble in reproducing in English what is one of the most poetically morose of Mr Mifsud's writings.

One regrets to notice, however, that the text of Happy Weekend contains as much excellence as it does patchiness, a symptom of what can be seen, in certain fragments of the book, as a lack of attention on the one hand, and a lack of professionalism on the other. Page and again, there are fragments where the English used does not match the modern, fresh style and tone of the original, at times to the extent that Mr Mifsud's irony and black humour are unfortunately drowned by the inappropriate choice of expression or turn of phrase. Some of the vocabulary employed is of another decade, other times too clean, too literal or artificial, whilst occasional attempts to venture into crisp, more familiar language appear to remain shy. Add to this the intermittent grammatical mistakes and the lack of consideration given to basic elements of structure (for instance, the title I'd Thought the Flowers Had all Died does not match the phrase actually used in the story on page 28, as it does in the original), and you may find that the book angers more than it pleases.

"When he hits no-one remembers, when he misses no-one forgets". This adagio, often used with reference to the danger faced by the repeatedly-forgotten translator as he or she goes about their task, may also apply to the proof-reader and editor, where these exist. Aside from the double-spaces, misplaced commas and missing fullstops, it is a great shame to find the same word appearing with two different spellings, on one occasion even within the same paragraph (see "margerine"/"margarine" pages 18-19, "pyjamas"/"pygamas" page 91). This is not the way to publish a book, let alone to promote a literature. The same recklessness can be seen in the paragraphs which are wrongly joined together or not formatted as they should be, sometimes effacing the play on form intended by the original: such is the case of the lists in A Meeting with Mara Morbi, while the story I'd Thought the Flowers Had all Died has been printed all in a single font and without spaces between the separate parts. The formatting of a text no doubt influences the way it is read, and pauses indicated by a simple empty line control the speed of the reading and thus of the reader's reaction. To have overlooked this quite straightforward ingredient of narrative is to have effectively spoilt the experience of what is otherwise a very entertaining piece of writing.

If a book is to be good from start to finish, the stages of proof-reading and editing are fundamental. Cutting and pasting drafts and sending to print is unacceptable. It is an attitude which has given Happy Weekend an amateur quality which neither Mr Mifsud nor Maltese literature in general deserve. What was a perfect opportunity for Mr Mifsud's storytelling to reach beyond the frontiers of Maltese has been squandered, partially and hopefully only temporarily. It is augured that the book will one day be re-edited, with some of the translations improved, and with much greater care being given to the final product.

• Mr Cassar is currently completing a PhD in Medieval Literature. A selection of his multilingual sonnets (muzajki) is due to appear in June in the collection Hbula Stirati, published together with four other Maltese poets. He lives in Luxembourg.

• A review copy of this title was supplied by the author.
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