Who’d have thought that translating foreign texts into English could lead to so many different bedrooms.
This seems to be a story about one man wooing and winding his way around the workplace, discovering uncomfortable sexual relationships with Gabi, Julia, Sonja, Trudy and Rachel - all in the first 81 pages! - as he moves from continent to continent, workplace to workplace. He seems to lead a shallow life, never quite managing to stick to anything, be it translating El Sexto, a Peruvian prison novel, or staying in a satisfactory grown-up relationship. He finds neither one thing nor the other; there is very little in his life, unless he counts shallow, meaningless sex as a success.
That this novel is well-written is beyond dispute and, though uncomfortable to read at times, I could still not put it down, even though I wanted to. I didn’t like the character portrayed and found him needy and patronising, especially towards women, but I had to find out more. I wanted to know if he would eventually achieve a successful relationship that didn’t just rely upon sex, and I certainly wanted to know whether he finally succeeded in translating El Sexto into the English language in a way that overcame all the linguistic problems it carried with it.
It is ironic that the character spends his working life trying to tease out the exact meaning of the smallest of words so as not to mislead the reader when he is such an abject failure at reading his own lifelines and methods. Perhaps it is too simplistic to place the two themes side by side and say that his translating life is a metaphor for his sex life - never quite getting there, despite chasing around the world to find that elusive ideal. I won’t tell you what he finds. You’ll need to read it and when you think it is all too much, buckle up and knuckle down, it is well worth the effort.
About the reviewer
Jon Wilkins is sixty-three. He has a gorgeous wife Annie and two beautiful sons, and loves to write. He is a retired teacher, lapsed Waterstone's bookseller and former Basketball Coach. He taught PE and English for twenty years and coached women’s basketball for over thirty years. He has always loved books and reading.