PUSHKIN £10.99 £9.99 (P&P FREE) 08700 798 897

Anthology of Apparitions by Simon Liberati

This is, apparently, what's going on in Anthology of Apparitions, a novel that did fairly well in France where it appeared last Autumn. Houellebecq, once again, hadn't published, and Simon Liberati's slim, elegiac volume about teenage tarts and old queers in 1970s France at least gave the papers a chance to make a fuss about something. Now it arrives in English courtesy of the Pushkin Press, a reputable small imprint specialising in translations of Continental writing.

Except it doesn't. Arrive in English, that is. Or at least, only in the loosest sense of the term. If you were struggling with the paragraph that began this review, imagine that Clouseau-esque word-ordering, those maniacal fastidious subclauses and that pure lack of sense ("staircase-like reasoning"? a "slow theory" of something?) sustained and amplified over the course of 139 tormented pages. It's probably as well that I mention Paul Buck and Catherine Petit now, since they've done something I have never seen before in a commercially published work of literature: produced a translation that, word for word, paragraph for paragraph, is actually worse than you might expect from a semi-competent A-level student in a tricky unseen exam.

There isn't much plot: Claude, a seedy, fortyish man-whore, gads about with his seedy fortyish man-whore friends trying to procure young girls for rich Arabs in nightclubs. Pop his anti-psychotics as he may, he can't stave off the spectre of his little sister, whom he used to pimp when they were both teenagers looking for a bit of fun. These and other memories ramify until the book and all its characters are blessedly swallowed up in a flood of Gallic-inflected Martian language.

But is it laziness or simple imbecility that makes our dynamic duo of translators run about befriending every faux ami they can lay hands on before inviting them all into the pages of someone else's book? Characters are described as "super-sympathetic". People keep barking "Attention!" at each other. A restaurant has "personnel", not staff. Occasionally - no, frequently - the translators seem just to throw up their hands at a sentence: "Claude used to improvise a speech all the more argumentative and long for the 'pigswill' (as Ali would have called it) was disgusting."

This can't be good news for the Pushkin Press, an organisation with some fine titles and a stable of translators that ranges from good to excellent if you leave out Buck and Petit. Most notably, it has recruited for its Stefan Zweig series the brilliant Anthea Bell, whose version of W G Sebald's Austerlitz showed an astonishing sensitivity to every nuance of the German author's grave and majestic work. And so the question arises: did no one read this gobbling turkey of a translation after it came back from its perpetrators? Such a lack of quality control could do serious damage to a company which receives rave reviews but has only been running for six years.

We should be grateful at least for this - it isn't often one comes across a book that can be read out loud, with consistent amusement, in a comedy French accent. Try it yourself with these golden cadences: "Ali was furious for he enjoyed loud music, and also loved arguing with the neighbours. Claude not." In fairness, you sometimes find yourself wanting to read the book proper rather than the gibber of its translation - which stands testament to M Liberati's skill in the face of astonishing adversity. I wish somebody would retranslate Anthology of Apparitions soon. Then I expect I could write a proper review.

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

Arts and Entertainment
Game of Thrones will run for ten years if HBO gets its way but showrunners have mentioned ending it after seven

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
Mans Zelmerlow will perform 'Heroes' for Sweden at the Eurovision Song Contest 2015

Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth (Heida Reed) and Ross Poldark (Aiden Turner) in the BBC's remake of their 1975 original Poldark

Poldark review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
    How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

    How to make your own Easter egg

    Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

    Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

    Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

    Cricket World Cup 2015

    Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
    The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing