Friday, November 02, 2007

I left the office on more of a cliff hanger than I meant to last night – when I came into the office this morning I was looked at expectantly: a prize won perhaps? Or a great deal with a major chain? No, the answer is more prosaic:
I had just begun to edit a really good book.

But first thing's first, yes I was allowed in to the Paramount offices but no, they did not mistake me for an actor. More of a delivery boy, which is what I was as I meekly left my package at reception. Although if Hollywood action movies have taught us anything it's that there is always a very good chance that the person manning the reception desk of an office building at night is not, in fact, a security guard but an international terrorist so I suppose that being meek and quick was exactly the thing to do...

But back to the really good book . It is, as those who just followed the link will already know, The Streets of Babylon by Carina Burman as very recently translated by Sarah Death and it is an absolute joy to work on.

The Streets of Babylon ( Which was contracted quite a while before I arrived at MB and about which I knew very little) introduces us to Euthanasia (She would have preferred Ariadne or Malvina) Bondeson, successful Swedish novelist, soon to be amateur detective and a wonderfully infuriating narrator, as she and her beautiful companion Agnes arrive in London for the 1851 Great Exhibition. She is a properly top drawn character, as engaging as anybody I've read in contemporary fiction recently. Whether she is admitting her own frailties:

'I can reveal to my dear readers my difficulties in finding my way in strange cities. Even in Stockholm, my hometown, it is not always easy. I am neither inattentive nor stupid, but my surroundings spin like a cogwheel in my head. I presume it is all to do with the rotation of the Earth.'

'Words are a necessity for my comprehension of the world. That is why I talk a lot'

or describing English foibles:

'Perhaps the explanation for this interminable tea drinking is the possession of so many colonies, whose economy one wishes to support. '

She's just marvelous.

Of course Euthanasia can't take all the credit, the author Carina Burman and the translator, Sarah Death should probably take some. They've produced a text that seems to me to have just the right measures of scholarship - the book apparently owes a lot to the work of the 19th century Swedish writer Frederika Bremer who both Burman and Death revere and on whom both have written academically – and entertainment – it's pacy and funny.

Anyway, I can rest happy this weekend because I know that I've got old (but still 'slender and agile') Euthanasia to get back to.


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