Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Does Not Translate: THE KING'S HOUNDS by Martin Jensen

The King's Hounds by Martin Jensen
This was kind of the literary version of the Seinfeld show - it was a book about nothing. Only the tv series was supposed to be 'a show about nothing', and was still about a lot of fun things.
This book was not fun, it actually was about nothing.

The characters didn't interest me, the writing was clunky and the translation was not good.
There is so much going on in this period. And yet, to me, the author failed to latch on and ride it into a great story.

In theory, the setting should be a colourful one and had all the potential to float this story like a bobbing buoy on a surging sea.
It is Britain, 1018. Cnut has conquered parts of England, cultures are clashing, uprisings are plentiful, the slave trade is about to go into overdrive. Settlements are popping up overnight. 
But, this book captured none of that to me. If it weren't for the words Vikings and Saxons being thrown around, it could have been devoid of ethnicity and could have been any European country before the Late Middle Ages.

I found the main character, Halfdan, so incredibly annoying and two dimensional and I found his support character, Winston, a poorly forged copy of historical mystery solvers who are already done to perfection in this genre, ie Matthew Shardlake from the C.J. Sansom series. In fact there were a lot of similarities between Winston/Halfdan and Matthew Shardlake/Jack Barak. At times it felt nearly plagiarised, but all it was, was a bad copy.

The translation I think was the story killer here for me. It was a terrible translation. It had been translated too literally and with modern words used frequently. A translator with a better understanding of what is required of an historical fiction translator, may have done a better job. Who knows.
I wish I was fluent in Danish, so that I could read the original to see whether this book was massacred at the hands of the translator more so than the author. I suspect the translation is to blame for a lot of the grievances I have towards this book.

I thought about giving it 3 stars, because there were some chapters that I enjoyed. In hindsight, now I have put some distance between me and this read, I realise those enjoyable parts did not in fact outweigh the overall negative feelings I have towards this book

- MM


  1. I am in complete agreement with all of your comments. I think that the translation is responsible for a lot of the inaccuracies. I would not expect to see usage of the word 'druthers' let alone 'schadenfreude'. And I wasn't completely happy with the meals that were eaten. There seemed to be too much meat and bread knocking around for 1018. Thanks for making your comment, I thought it wholly accurate.

    1. It was really missing in culture wasn't it. I also had some issues with food in the book. I think this book is a perfect example of how a bad translation can do a book no service. Had it been translated by someone who understood the history moreit may have been a different reading experience,