That’s the stuff! A note on Adriana Hunter’s translation of ‘Beside the Sea’ by Veronique Olmi
April 5, 2013 § Leave a comment
The mother is bringing her children ‘to see the sea’. This phrase would have caused no problems in French: voyer la mer ( I hope this is correct). We talk of people never having ‘seen the sea’ but not of their ‘not having had a look at the sea’ or their not ‘having caught a glimpse of the sea’. Usually such repetition can be avoided, for example: How much is the fare to the funfair? can be replaced with, How much to the fair? However, the repetition of the sound ‘see’ is justified in English because there is no natural alternative.
But should Adriana Hunter have used the word ‘stuff’ so much in the opening pages of Beside the Sea?
. . . I’d taught them not to waste stuff and to think of the next day. (page 9)
Yep, sometimes I sit in the kitchen for hours and I couldn’t give a stuff about anything. (page 9)
. . . I’d stuffed them full of warm clothes for the kids, (page 10)
. . . stuff from home, familiar things, (page 10)
. . . we could see the drivers’ hands, their legs, their stuff on the passenger seat, (page 11)
. . . ever since I broke my collar bone I’ve had trouble carrying stuff . . . (page 15)
Beside the Sea is an excellent story. Yet when I sampled it, reading a handful of pages, my attention was snagged by the recurring use of the word ‘stuff’. Why did Adriana Hunter use ‘stuff’ or some variation so much in the first few pages? Was this use deliberate? Or was it an oversight? It would have been easy to find a replacement for the word stuff in most of the sentences.
I couldn’t give a stuff. This ‘not giving a stuff’ is a phrase that the mother uses several times in the book. The Irish don’t use this expression. It is an expression I associate with English people, and I believe it was used in the 1970s. I don’t think anyone ‘gives a stuff’ today. People, if they use such a formulation, usually don’t give a [much stronger word] than a ‘stuff’ or they ‘couldn’t care less’. Would a woman like the mother use such an expression, an expression that no one else uses? Why did Adriana Hunter chose that particular expression? Does Adriana Hunter know anyone who uses it?
The re-occurrence of ‘stuff’ did distract me from the story when I first read the opening pages. I thought the word in different contexts had appeared too much. It seemed to me to be a small flaw in an otherwise excellent translation. But perhaps Adriana Hunter had a purpose that escapes me.