David Mitchell: By the Book
November 05, 2012
The author of “Cloud Atlas” would like to drink dodgy Crimean wine with Chekhov and play a few rounds of Anglo-Russian Scrabble.
What book is on your night stand now?
“Postwar,” by the historian Tony Judt; David Finkel’s account of U.S. forces in Iraq, “The Good Soldiers”; and a proof of Nadeem Aslam’s new book, “The Blind Man’s Garden,” which I haven’t started yet. Plus my notebook, in case a decent idea ambushes me after turning out the light.
What was the last truly great book you read?
The Icelander Halldor Laxness’s “Independent People,” which I read last year on a trip to the country. Even in chapters where nothing happens, it happens brilliantly. I thought Kevin Powers’s “The Yellow Birds” was shot through with greatness, too. If “a truly great book” implies thickness and scope, then maybe it doesn’t qualify, but either way Powers has written a superlative novel.
冰岛作家哈尔多·拉克斯内斯(Halldor Laxness)的《独立的人民》(Independent People)是我去年去冰岛旅行时读的。就连那些其实没有什么情节的章节也很精彩。我觉得凯文·鲍威尔(Kevin Powers)的《黄鸟》(The Yellow Birds)也非常棒。如果“精彩的书”的评价标准也包括书的厚度和内容广度的话，《黄鸟》可能并不够格，但是不管怎样，鲍威尔写了一本最棒的小说。
And the worst or most disappointing thing you’ve read recently?
I’d rather not put the boot in publicly — it spoils my day when I’m on the receiving end.
Where do you get your books, and where do you read them?
If the book is still in print and from a mainstream publisher, I’ll use my local bookshop here in Clonakilty in West Cork; I’ll Amazon it if I’m after something more oddball from, say, the University of Hawaii Press; or use AbeBooks if it’s out of print or print-on-demand. I like to browse the bookshelves of charity shops in university towns, in case serendipity hands me something wonderful I had no idea I wanted. Up to 10 proofs a week wriggle through my letterbox from editors and publishers (even though I’ve stopped blurbing), and occasionally there’s a well-chosen diamond.
如果是大出版社出版的实体书，我会到我们这儿西考克的克洛纳基尔迪 (Clonakilty)书店去买；要是夏威夷大学出版社之类比较奇怪的出版社出的绝版书，或者按需印刷的书，我就到亚马逊或者AbeBooks之类网站 去买。我喜欢去大学城的旧货店淘书，有时候好运气会带给我一些意料之外的好书。我一周最多能收到10本编辑和各出版社往我邮箱里发来的样稿（虽然我已经不 在封面给人写赞语了），其中偶尔也能发现精美的钻石。
What’s it like to see “Cloud Atlas” turned into a movie? Any major changes in the transition that threw you off?
First, there’s a primal wow to be had from seeing your characters walking and talking, larger than life, played by faces I’ve known for much of my life. Second, there’s a slower-burning pleasure in merely thinking of your story being out in the world, trickling into minds, wherever there are cinemas. Then, inevitably, the film gets lost in the hurly-burly of life, and I don’t think about it at all, at least until the next interview.
首先，看到你笔下的人物能走，会说话，被赋予生命，被你熟悉的大明星扮 演，你本能地就会发出惊叹；其次，只要想一想你的故事会放给全世界看，只要有电影院的地方就能看到它，它会慢慢渗入人们的心灵，这带给你一种缓慢燃烧般的 快感。之后，不可避免地，在生活的喧嚣之中，电影也会迷失，但我根本就不去想它，至少在下一次接受采访之前不会去想。
None of the major changes the film made to my novel “threw me off” in the sense of sticking in my craw. I think that the changes are licensed by the spirit of the novel, and avoid traffic congestion in the film’s flow. Any adaptation is a translation, and there is such a thing as an unreadably faithful translation; and I believe a degree of reinterpretation for the new language may be not only inevitable but desirable. In the German edition of my last novel, my translator Volker Oldenburg rendered a rhyming panoramic tableau by rescripting the items in order to make it rhyme in German too. He judged that rhythm mattered more than the exact items in the tableau, and it was the right call. Similarly, when the Wachowskis and Tykwer judged that in a translation (into film) of “Cloud Atlas” Zachry’s and Meronym’s future needs more certitude, then I trusted them to make the right call. They want to avoid melodrama and pap and cliché as much as I do, but a film’s payoff works differently to a novel’s payoff, and the unwritten contract between author and reader differs somewhat to the unwritten contract between filmmaker and viewer. Adaptations gloss over these differences at their peril.
电影对小说做出的所有重大改变都没有让我生气，我并没有觉得难以接受。 我觉得这些改动都是符合原著精神的，避免了信息过多影响电影的流畅。任何改编都是一种翻译，完全忠实的直译有时可能会完全丧失可读性；我相信，新语言的重 新阐释不仅是不可避免的，而且最后结果还有可能很令人满意。比如在我最新小说的德文版里有一段押韵的全景描写，翻译沃尔克·奥登伯格(Volker Oldenburg)为了让这段文字翻译成德语也押韵，就重新改写了这段文字。他觉得在这里节奏比场景中描述的东西更重要，他的理由是正确的。同样，沃卓 斯基姐弟和提克威觉得把《云图》翻译成电影时，扎克里和麦克尼姆的未来世界这个故事应该占据更多篇幅，我也信任他们有正确的理由。和我一样，他们希望避免 哗众取宠的情节剧、无价值的胡说八道和陈词滥调，但电影产生的最终效果和小说的最终效果是不一样的，作者与读者之间有着不成文的约定，导演和观众之间也有 着不成文的约定，这两种约定也完全不同。改编就是要冒着风险，把这两种约定之间的不同之处给掩饰掉。
There is one brief scene where the directors continue a character’s story arc further than I imagined, in the case of Cavendish. This extension feels so right that I’ve incorporated it into the book I’m working on, making it “canonical” so to speak. Here’s hoping the Wachowskis won’t object. . . .
You spent many years living in Japan. Were there Japanese writers you particularly admire you discovered while there? Any books in particular that gave you insight into the country and its people?
Haruki Murakami, probably the most famous living Japanese person, is hardly a “discovery,” but it was a pleasure to read him in his natural habitat. Shusaku Endo was perhaps the closest thing to a “national conscience” writer (in the Amos Oz mold, say) to emerge in Japan. His historical novel “Silence” is wonderful. I have a soft spot for Junichiro Tanizaki, too. His earlier, Poe-drenched work is good fun, but his masterpiece, “The Makioka Sisters,” serves — Austen-like — as a sort of Lonely Planet guide to the matrix of social obligations which people in Japan still navigate. For a crash course in ultranationalism and the pathology of obsession, Yukio Mishima is the man, even if his humorlessness can wear you down. (The end of his Sea of Fertility tetralogy, however, is surely one of the best final scenes in the history of the novel.) To mention the war, Akira Yoshimura’s “One Man’s Justice” and Saiichi Maruya’s “Grass for My Pillow” both examine Japan’s bruised relationship with its recent history. Sawako Ariyoshi’s “The Doctor’s Wife” is an excellent historical novel on the status of women in Japan.
村上春树可能是活着的日本人当中最有名的一位了，看他的书算不上是一种“发现”，但在他的祖国读他的书的确很愉快。远藤周作(Shusaku Endo) 可能是日本最接近“国民良心”的作家，有点像阿莫斯·奥兹(Amos Oz)。他的历史小说《沉默》(Silence)非常精彩。我还特别偏爱谷崎润一郎(Junichiro Tanizaki)，他的早期作品充满爱伦·坡风格，非常有趣，但他的杰作《细雪》(The Makioka Sisters)却是奥斯汀风格的，有点像一本关于日本社会义务的《孤独星球》指南，这些义务至今仍然贯穿于日本人的生活之中。要想快速了解日本人的狭隘 民族主义和对病态的迷恋，就去读三岛由纪夫的作品吧，就算他的一本正经令人感到疲惫也值得一读。他的《丰饶之海》(Sea of Fertility)四部曲的结尾部分绝对是小说史上最好的终局之一。描写战争的优秀小说有吉村昭(Akira Yoshimura)的《一个人的争议》(One Man’s Justice)和丸谷才一(Saiichi Maruya)的《我枕头里的草》(Grass for My Pillow)，从中可以检视日本与其近代史之间伤痕累累的联系。有吉佐和子(Sawako Ariyoshi)的《大夫之妻》(The Doctor’s Wife)是关于日本女性地位的优秀历史小说。
What was it like teaching English while you were there? Did you enjoy it?
Yes, I liked teaching very much, and I have many good memories. My students taught me more about Japan than its authors, really. By the end of my eight years there, however, I’d published two novels, had begun work on “Cloud Atlas” and had come to see my future in fiction. I remember writing very short stories as comprehension exercises for my college students. I never kept any copies, and now I sometimes wonder if they were any good.
是的，我非常喜欢教英语，那里给我留下了很多美好的回忆。其实关于日 本，我从学生们那里学到的东西要比从日本作家那里学到的更多。我在那儿呆了8年，期间出版了两本小说，也是在那时开始创作《云图》，开始意识到自己将来可 以以写小说为业。我记得当时还给我在大学里的学生们写过非常短的小故事，充当他们的阅读理解材料，不过从来没留过副本。现在我有时候还会想，那些故事到底 写得好不好呢？
In 2003, you were selected by Granta as one of the best young British novelists, alongside Zadie Smith and Hari Kunzru, among others. If you had to name the best young British novelists of today, who would be on your list?
2003年，你被《格兰塔》(Granta)杂志评选为英国最佳年轻小说家，与扎迪·史密斯(Zadie Smith)和哈里·昆兹鲁(Hari Kunzru)等人并列。你觉得英国最优秀的年轻小说家都有谁呢？
How middle-aged does this question make me feel?! It’s tricky to answer, because I’m not very plugged in to the current scene here in the west of Ireland, and I tend to read the dead more than I do the living. But since you insist, three possible candidates for the Granta U.K. class of 2013 are Ned Beauman, Joe Dunthorne and Simon Lelic. Lelic’s three novels are breakneck, intelligent “social thrillers” that even invade my dream-life.
You’ve mentioned reading Ursula Le Guin and Susan Cooper as a child. What drew you to fantasy, and do you still read it?
你曾经说起自己童年时喜欢读厄休拉·勒奎恩(Ursula Le Guin)与苏珊·库珀(Susan Cooper)的作品，你为什么会对奇幻小说感兴趣，你现在还看奇幻小说吗？
Many children are natural fantasists, I think, perhaps because their imaginations have yet to be clobbered into submission by experience. When you’re 10, there is still an outside chance that you might find Narnia behind the wardrobe, that the fur coats could turn into fir trees. The state of childhood resonates with life inside a fantasy novel. If you have no control over how you spend large chunks of your day, or are at the mercy of flawed giant beings, then the desire to bend the laws of the world by magic is strong and deep. I don’t mean that kids can’t distinguish fantasy from reality — the playground bully will clarify the matter gratis — but fantasy offers a logic to which kids are receptive, and escapism for which kids are hungry. As an adult, I read less fantasy (aside from bedtime-story duties), but perhaps nomenclature plays a role here, too: both fantasy and S.F. have made inroads into literary fiction and influences even those novels whose imprint logo is reassuringly conservative. Murakami’s “Wind-Up Bird Chronicle” isn’t regarded as a fantasy novel, but the plot is propelled by occult magic. Kazuo Ishiguro’s masterly “Never Let Me Go” is old-money dystopian S.F., as is Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” and Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road.” Philip K. Dick would recognize both Michael Chabon’s “Yiddish Policemen’s Union” and Philip Roth’s “Plot Against America” as alternate-history S.F. in the grandest, proudest tradition. We imbibe more S.F. and fantasy than we notice. On my last visit to New York, by the by, I had a dinner with a group of literary writers, and the whole main course was spent in earnest and learned discussion of “A Game of Thrones.”
我觉得很多孩子都是天生的幻想家，也许是因为他们的想象力还没有因为受 到经验的持续打击而屈服。当你10岁的时候，还是会觉得衣橱里可能有通往纳尼亚的大门，毛皮大衣有可能变成杉树。童年时的状态会与奇幻小说中的生活产生呼 应。如果你小时候大部分时间无人管束，或者管束你的大人有很大缺陷，那么想用魔法的力量改变世界法则的渴望就会非常强烈而深切。我不是说这样的孩子分不清 现实和幻想——伙伴中那些专门欺负人的孩子会免费帮他们认清现实的——但是奇幻小说提供一种孩子们能够接受的逻辑，一种孩子们很渴望的，对现实的逃避。成 年以后我读的奇幻小说就没那么多了（除了给孩子读睡前故事），但是这跟文学分类的方法也有关系：奇幻小说和科幻小说都已经入侵到纯文学小说的领域，甚至影 响到那些创作特色尤其保守的人。村上春树的《奇鸟行状录》(Wind-Up Bird Chronicle)不会被当作奇幻小说，但它的情节是由奇异的魔法推动的。石黑一雄的杰作《千万别丢下我》(Never Let Me Go)是老一套的反乌托邦科幻小说，玛格丽特·阿特伍德(Margaret Atwood)的《女仆的故事》(The Handmaid’s Tale)、科马克·麦卡锡(Cormac McCarthy)的《犹太警察联盟》(Yiddish Policemen’s Union)以及菲利普·罗斯(Philip Roth)的《反美阴谋》(Plot Against America)都继承了架空历史科幻小说那种宏大、高贵的传统。我们不知不觉中就从科幻小说和奇幻小说中汲取养分。上次去纽约的时候，我和一群文学作家 一起吃饭，整个饭局渐渐就变成大家热情地讨论起《权力的游戏》(A Game of Thrones)来。
Do you have a favorite character or hero from children’s literature?
Edmund from the Narnia books is an interesting one. In “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” he commits an act of exquisite treachery by refusing to corroborate Lucy’s experiences in Narnia, before selling his siblings for a box of crack-laced Turkish delight. Way to go, Ed. Yet by “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader,” Edmund has evolved the strength of character to tell Eustace calmly, “You were only an ass, but I was a traitor.” Stumbling heroes linger longer.
“纳尼亚传奇”里面的埃德蒙是个挺有趣的角色，在《狮子、女巫和魔衣 柜》(The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe)里，他先是拒绝证实露西在纳尼亚的经历，出卖自己的兄弟姊妹换一盒土耳其软糖，犯下了小小的背叛行为。他还需要进步。但后来到了《黎明 踏浪号》(The Voyage of the Dawn Treader)里，埃德蒙已经成了一个强大的角色，他告诉尤斯塔斯：“你只是一个混蛋，而我也曾经做过叛徒。” 犯过错误的英雄才更能让人们长久地记住。
Have you discovered any good new books for young people through your own two children?
Lots, yes. In the 1970s and 1980s there was so little decent fiction for young people, but we’re now in a golden age that shows no sign of fading. Philip Pullman, J. K. Rowling, Lemony Snicket are only three of the best known among a good number of equals. Michael Morpurgo is a great evoker of place and emotion, and a cool stylist. Neil Gaiman’s “Coraline” and “The Graveyard Book” are both gorgeous pieces of work which will outlive most of us, I expect.
当然，有很多呢。20世纪70到80年代几乎没有什么专门给年轻人看的 像样的小说，但现在我们正处在一个黄金时代，而且没有衰退的迹象。菲利普·普尔曼(Philip Pullman)、J·K.罗琳(J. K. Rowling,)、雷蒙·斯尼奇(Lemony Snicket)只是三个最有名的，类似的好作家还有很多。迈克尔·莫珀格(Michael Morpurgo)擅长写地点和情感，风格独特，非常酷。尼尔·盖曼(Neil Gaiman)的《鬼妈妈》(Coraline)和《坟场之书》(The Graveyard Book)都是了不起的著作，我期望它们的生命会比我们大多数人的生命长久。
You have written that you see your stammering as “an informant about language.” In what ways has it informed your approach to reading, and to writing?
Reading, maybe not a lot, other than to nudge me towards books and away from people, which maybe is a lot, after all. As a future writer, however, my stammer was an effective if merciless boot-camp instructor. It (or “He” as I imagined it) trained me to amass a vocabulary flexible and muscular enough to avoid words beginning with stammer-consonants, and do so on the hoof, before the other person caught on. My stammer also taught me about register — it was no good substituting “autodidact” for “I taught myself” because in a bog-standard state school in 1980s Britain using a word like “autodidact” got you convicted of talking posh, an offense punishable by being hung from iron railings by your underpants. What I didn’t know at the time was how linguistic register helps a novelist flesh out character and lends authenticity to dialogue or narrated thought. So while I wouldn’t say that stammering drove me to become a writer — this impulse comes from elsewhere — it did influence the type of writer I have become. What feels like a curse when you’re younger can prove to be a long-term ally.
大概没怎么影响我的阅读，只是让我远离人群，走向书本的世界，不过这已 经算是很大的影响了。作为未来的作家，我的口吃却像是一个有效但却无情的训练教官。它（其实在我想象里应该是“他”）训练我积累出灵活强健的词汇量，可以 避免使用那些一开头就会引起口吃的辅音，不等其他人抓到我口吃就能及时防患于未然。口吃还教会了我各种表达方式，比如用“自学成才者” (autodidact)这个词取代“这是我自己学会的”(I taught myself)效果并不好，因为在20世纪80年代的普通英国学校里，使用“自学成才者”这样的词就好像在炫耀自己说话高雅，对他人来说是一种冒犯，作为 惩罚，他们会把你的内裤挂在铁栅栏上。当时我还不知道对于一个小说家来说，语言表达方式能让人物有血有肉，让对话和对思考的描述变得真实可信。虽然不能说 是口吃令我成为作家，我写作的冲动有其他来源，但口吃确实影响我成为了现在这种类型的作家。它就像一个咒语，在我很小的时候就向我证明，它是我的长期同 盟。
If you could match three writers, dead or alive, with three topics of your choice, who would you have write about what?
I’ve puzzled for days over this, but drawn a blank. In order to concoct a pleasing combo — Mark Twain on the Tea Party, for example — you must already imagine what the author would write — an all-you-can-eat of gourmet ridicule — so there’s no element of surprise. There’s also a “changing the eye of the beholder” problem: sending an age-of-sail novelist into space, for example, would involve so much technical bringing-up-to-speed that I’m not sure whether Conrad, say, would still be writing like Conrad by the time he was climbing into his spacesuit. My only other idea is more vengeful than illuminating: to gather up a party of the most vociferous climate change deniers and send them 100 years into the future so they have to share the fates of their own great-grandchildren. But even then, I suspect, they would find reasons why it was someone else’s fault.
这个问题我想了好几天，但还是觉得没有头绪。要制造出一种令人愉快的组 合的话，你其实就能想象出那个作家会写些什么，比如让马克·吐温来写茶会，他肯定会写一大堆挖苦老饕们的俏皮话，这样就没什么惊喜的感觉了。另外还有“视 角转换”的问题，比如说，把一个航海时代的小说家送到太空时代，那他就要面临很多新时代飞速发展的技术问题，我可不知道康拉德换了一身太空服还会不会像过 去那样写作。我唯一的想法更像一种报复，而不是什么有启发性的创见——去找一群吵闹得最凶的那种否认全球气候变化的人，把他们送到100年以后去，让他们 和自己的曾孙们同呼吸共命运。但我觉得就算这样，他们也会找到理由，说这都是别人的错。
If you could meet any writer, dead or alive, who would it be? What would you want to know?
Chekhov. I don’t want to know anything in particular — I’d just like to carve up a pheasant with him, served with new potatoes and green beans from the garden. Then we could polish off some dodgy Crimean wine and play a few rounds of Anglo-Russian Scrabble and lose track of time and the score. If Isaac Bashevis Singer could be there, too, I think they’d get on well. And if Dorothy Parker could drop by at some point, and maybe Katherine Mansfield, and Sylvia Townsend-Warner. . . . And suddenly it’s a party.
契诃夫。我不想问他什么特别的事，只想享受和他在一起的乐趣，一起吃点 从花园里摘下来的新鲜土豆和青豆。然后我们可以喝点劣质的克里米亚葡萄酒，玩几轮盎格鲁-俄罗斯拼字游戏，完全忘记时间流逝，也不管什么输赢。如果艾萨 克·巴什维斯·辛格(Isaac Bashevis Singer)也能来，我觉得他们会相处得很好。如果多萝西·帕克(Dorothy Parker)或者凯瑟琳·曼斯菲尔德(Katherine Mansfield)和西尔维娅·汤森德·华纳(Sylvia Townsend-Warner)中途也来拜访……，一下子就成了派对了。
And if you were forced to name your one favorite author?
I’d have to say, “I’m sorry, but books just don’t work like that, and neither does music, Amen” and take the consequences.