Occasionally when reading this novel I came across a few phrases that jarred, and sounded unnatural. I appreciate that translating is a very difficult process, capturing not just the sense of the original but the poetry, the complexity, and the idiomatic phrasing. I also recognise that any awkwardness of phrasing could be deliberate, to emphasis an aspect of a character’s nature for example. Having said all that, there were a few usages that felt just wrong.

Some examples:

he had augured that in her lifetime she would behold the death of everything she loved.” (268)

To use “augur” as an active verb meaning to forecast, rather than to simply signify a future event, may not technically be incorrect, but it feels archaic.

“Look here, Merceditas, because I know you’re a good person (though a bit narrow minded and as ignorant as a brick)” (Fermin) page 159,

Translating idiom is fantastically difficult, I appreciate, but “ignorant as a brick” is not an expression I recognise, and the internet hasn’t been able to provide me with any examples. OK, this is Fermin speaking, and his language is colourful, but not deliberately awkward surely?

“The downpour slithered like melted wax” (314).

Slithered is another very active verb – snakes and worms slither. It implies sideways movement, at pace – but melted wax may move sideways, but always slowly.

“What blessed innocence, Daniel, You’d even believe in the tooth fairy. All right, just to give you an example: the tall tale about Miguel Moliner that Nuria Monfort landed on you. I think the wench told you more whoppers than the editorial page of L’Osseratore Romano.”(231)

Just how wooden is this? “Landed on you”? You don’t land a tall tale on someone. And “more whoppers than the editorial page of L’Osseratore Romana” is never going to catch on!

“if he could lie better, he wouldn’t be teaching algebra and Latin; he’d be in the bishopric by now, growing fat in an office like a cardinal’s and plunging soft sponge cakes in his coffee.” (Fermin) (231).

I’ve two issues with this sentence. Firstly, wouldn’t “growing fat in a cardinal’s office” be better? I appreciate “in a cardinal’s office” is different to “an office like a cardinal’s”, but the distinction is slight, and the sentence as written is ugly and confusing – on a first read I thought there was a missing word after “cardinal’s” (hat?). The other issue is with the verb choice. Plunging is not something one does with soft sponge cakes. It is a violent, vigourous movement; surely the right choice would be “dunking”. Now obviously I haven’t read the original Spanish, and there could possibly be a reason why the author wanted us to imagine this priest aggressively shoving his soft sponge cakes into his coffee, but I doubt it.

What does all this add up to? Is this just a massive exercise in pedantry? If these were the only examples, perhaps, but there was a woodenness through the novel that was hard to escape. I sometimes rather fancifully pictured the characters talking as if in a badly dubbed movie. It made the disappointing experience of reading the novel just that little bit worse.