The Next Chapter

Why novelist Catherine Leroux thinks you shouldn't fear translated books

The author of The Party Wall encourages readers to venture into the French-Canadian catalogue of writers.
Catherine Leroux is a Montreal-based novelist and translator. (House of Anansi Press/Jimmy Jeong)

Catherine Leroux is a Montreal novelist and translator. She writes in French and is fluent in both French and English. As a reader, she will often read the same book in both languages. This rigorous reading has led her to champion the translated Quebecois novels Hunting Houses by Fanny Britt and The Longest Year by Daniel Grenier. 

Leroux's own novel was translated into English as The Party Wall and shortlisted for the 2016 Giller Prize.  

Trust the translator

"I think we have some of the greatest translators in the world in this country, but a lot of books translated recently have gone unnoticed. I feel like there is a resistance or sense of suspicion among the Anglo-Canadian public towards translations. Many people feel they are not 'getting the real thing.'  As a translator, I hope to dissipate these doubts as much as possible. Of course there are differences! It's in English — it's a different language, a different universe and a different paradigm. If the translator did their job right, it's not going to be the same book."

Hunting Houses by Fanny Britt, translated by Susan Ouriou and Christelle Morelli

Hunting Houses by Fanny Britt (pictured above) was translated by Susan Ouriou and Christelle Morelli. Ouriou won the 2009 Governor General’s Literary Award for Translation. (Julie Artacho/House of Anansi)

"I love Fanny and everything she does — the way she works with her subjects is very subtle. No matter the medium she chooses, her greatest talent is this ability to talk about the zeitgeist — she is very much in the moment. But it never feels fleeting and is always very deep; she always finds a way to touch upon something universal, no matter how mundane the subject. She does that in Hunting Houses, in which she dives into subjects like family life, marriage and womanhood through her main character Tessa, a middle-aged woman. Tessa is at a point where she's questioning all those compromises you make as you age and all the things you have to give up as a grown up. You're taken back to a different time when you were a different person. Fanny does this in beautiful, clever prose — and kudos to the translators who did this justice."

The Longest Year by Daniel Grenier, translated by Pablo Strauss

Daniel Grenier's fictional saga, The Longest Year, was shortlisted for a 2015 Governor General's Literary Award when it was originally published in French. (Le Quartanier/Justine Latour/House of Anansi)

"The Longest Year is a surprising and incredibly creative exploration of time, mortality and history. Aimé Bolduc is the main character, born in Quebec City in 1760. He's a leaper, born on February 29, but he's not your average leaper because he ages only once every four years. He lives through the English conquests, the American Civil War, the Industrial Revolution and the Golden Age of Hollywood. Part of the book is about Aimé's path, but the other part is about the path of two of his descendants who will try to find out more about this elusive ancestor. Just based on the premise, you can't be bored. It's thoroughly researched and has a strong social component covering racial and class tensions, science, war — it's all in there. It feels like the book was written in English. So if you are suspicious about translations, you want to pick this one up; I can vouch for the work Pablo Strauss."

Catherine Leroux's comments have been edited and condensed.