Book Review: "Entre Deux Voix"

The book on the road at Heathrow airport.
Note: It’s summertime, which usually means books and book reviews, and here is our first one of the summer. Dagy reviews a French-language book below. Judy has nothing to contribute because she doesn’t speak French. FYI: This English-language review includes a few sections in French.

Instead of attacking my oversized ZEIT newspaper on my recent flight from Heathrow to Vegas, I decided to read Jenny Sigot Müller’s debut novel (not self-published, but by an actual publisher!) “Entre deux voix” (Between two voices). It was mostly a good read and it saved me angry looks from the poor person stuck on the middle seat next to me who would have certainly disliked having my huge paper spill over into her tray table.

While the cover says “Journal d’une jeune interprète de conférence”  (journal of a young conference interpreter), the book reads much more like a novel than a private journal, and it could have benefited from a catchier title. Even though this is a journal, the author, a practicing conference interpreter in Switzerland, decided to keep the reader in the dark about the mysterious “agency” that usually hires her, which struck me as odd. Puzzlingly, she receives faxes from them for her assignments, even though the novel is clearly set in modern tech times, and as far as I know, the fax went extinct in 2000, but I digress. The author also does not disclose the clients she ends up working with. One of them is most certainly Red Bull, but the author never mentions the brand. While this is certainly understandable from an actual conference interpreter’s ethical perspective, it leaves too many blanks for the uninitiated reader. This is, after all, a work of fiction. Or not, as mentioned above.

Speaking about outsiders to the profession: Even though I sincerely hope that the general public will reach for this book in the bookstore, they might find it doesn’t provide sufficient background information about the industry. For instance, the author doesn't explain what a source text is or what the difference between consecutive and simultaneous might be. It isn’t until very late in the book that the reader even learns the narrator's working languages (English and French; any others?).

As probably most novice authors do, the author did fall into several traps, mostly in terms of style (je hurle de toutes mes forces; j’éteins la lampe d’un geste déterminé). Wittingly or not, she oscillates between overly dramatic passages (especially when describing her very first interpreting assignment), staccato-like writing and traditional prose. What struck me as troubling was that an interpreter who’s clearly aware of the power of language would use the generic masculine when talking about interpreters in general: Et l’interprète a une autre voix, qu’il revêt une fois le micro allumé, etc.

Most authors seem to think that no novel is complete without the typical love story (or budding love story) thrown in, but the story line in this book is so contrived and kitschy that the book would certainly be better off without it.

Luckily, there were other traps that the author successfully avoided, such as celebrating the greatness of interpreters in general. Instead, the plot is mostly about the one-sided rivalry deliberately created by an experienced interpreter and the poor up-and-coming interpreter (narrator) who finds herself facing extreme hostility for no apparent reason and struggling to cope with that situation.

Overall, a few flaws  aside, this was a good read. Even though it will not be a contender for the Pulitzer prize, industry professionals will certainly enjoy reading it. Here's the author's website, and of course, the book is also available on Amazon.


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The entrepreneurial linguists and translating twins blog about the business of translation from Las Vegas and Vienna.

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