Looking Out To Sea

The Swedish author with the bolt from the blue

I’ve mentioned in the past being unimpressed with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and suspecting that the translation was a good chunk of the problem. I remember thinking that the prose seemed very cliched and relied heavily on hackneyed sayings that shouldn’t be a part of a well-written novel. Since we can hardly blame the author of the Swedish original for the clunky English phrasing we’ll have to point the finger at the translator.

Maybe you think I’m being unfair. While on holiday recently I had time to read the two sequels and got the same impression with them as I did with the original book. And since they’re fresh in my mind I still remember some of the dodgy phrases. Let’s see if I can demonstrate some problems.

The English translations seem very fond of describing sudden events in the same lumpen way. There’s a couple from the first book, though not the only ones.

The question came like a bolt out of the blue, but Berger did not seem the least bit surprised.

“Forgive me for bothering you out of the blue, but I happened to be in St. Albans, and I tried to call you during the day.”

From the sequel, The Girl who Played with Fire:

And then out of the blue she had destroyed him. She had struck back with a power and determination that he had not dreamed she possessed. She had humiliated him. She had tortured him. She had all but demolished him.

Hedström said nothing during the taxi journey from Slussen to Kungsholmen. He was in a daze from out of the blue ending up in a real police investigation. He glanced at Bohman, who was reading Armansky’s presentation again.

And finally from The Girl who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest

“Annika… this isn’t the way I had planned to end my time at Millennium. In the middle of chaos. But the offer came like a bolt from the blue, and I can’t say no. I mean, it’s the chance of a lifetime. I got the offer just before Dag and Mia were shot, and there’s been such turmoil here that I buried it. And now I have the world’s worst guilty conscience.”

At 6:00 she paid her bill and walked to Lillian’s place on Olivedalsgatan. She punched in the door code her friend had given her. She stepped into the stairwell and was looking for a light switch when the attack came out of the blue. She was slammed up against a tiled wall next to the door. She banged her head hard, felt a rush of pain, and fell to the ground.

I think you begin to see what I’m talking about. You read these phrases — and others like “within a few minutes he would be dead as a door-nail” — and wonder to yourself what the translator and editor were doing. There are dozens like these and they often break the illusion. Who carefully describes a method of killing someone that will result in them being “dead as a door-nail”?

It gives hope for the rest of us. Between dodgy translations of Stieg Larsson and the top-notch output of Dan Brown there’s room for everyone in the airport thriller market, whether you can write or not.