Monday, June 30, 2014

"Foam of the Daze" and "Mood Indigo" (Lécume des jours) by Boris Vian




Out of curiosity and pleasure (of course) I read the two English language translations of Boris Vian's "L´ecume des jours that is now out on the market.  "Mood Indigo" was translated in 1967 by Stanley Chapman, and my edition (TamTam Books) was translated about ten years ago.  The Brian Harper translation is called "Foam of the Daze."   The original Chapman edition was called "Froth on a Daydream."  Both translated titles are good, and tricky, due to the poetic title that is "L'´ecume des jours."   The edition published by FSG is called "Mood Indigo" to tie in with film by Michel Gondry, which for some odd reason they're naming it after the original American translation that came out in the 60s as well and published by the great Grove Press.  The title "Mood Indigo" is puzzling, because one, the song "Mood Indigo" is not mentioned at all in the book nor film as far I can remember.  Although the song is co-written by the great Duke Ellington, who for sure has an important presence in the Vian book.  There are numerous mentions of the song by Ellington called "Chloe, which is an incredible piece of music, but also one of the main characters in the novel is named after the song.
Besides that point, both translations of the Vian novel reads very well.  The reasons why I didn't use Chapman's translation was that I felt that it needed a new and fresh translation, and Brian Harper, an American who lives in Paris, kept all the ingredients that makes the book great.

the actor Robert Hutton who Vian based the character (at least visually) "Colin" on.

Chapman is a tad playful with his translation, which is OK, but it really bugs me when he describes the main character Colin as a "fair-headed Jean Bellpull Rondeau in a film by Jacques Goon Luddard."  In the original French edition of the book, as well as in Harper's (TamTam Books) "Foam of the Daze the character is described as the blond actor who plays the role of Slim in "Hollywood Canteen."  The role "Slim" is played by actor Robert Hutton.  So that was the visual image that Vian had in mind with respect to Colin.   Also keep in mind that Lécume des jours was written and published in 1947.   The film made by Jean-Luc Godard (Jacques Goon Luddard) was shot in 1959, and came out in France in 1960.  One of the other characters in the book is named Alise, but for whatever reasons Chapman re-titled her name as "Alyssum" in "Mood Indigo (Froth on a Daydream).   Alyssum I believe to be a type of flower, so Chapman may have used her name as a pun, with respect to the plants and flowers that are listed in the book.   Another example of Chapman playing with a name is the cookbook that Colin's chef/friend uses throughout the book that was written in the 19th century.  Jules Gouffé is known as a great chef, and his cookbook from the 19th century is very well-known in France.   In "Mood Indigo" the chef's name is "ffroydde," which I don't fully understand if it is a pun.  So, Chapman plays with titles and names throughout the book, yet, his narrative style is very good.  I just question his choices of names and titles, when they are clearly stated in the original French text by Vian.

 Also "Foam of the Daze" is based on the 1994 French edition prepared by Gilbert Rybalka and Michel Rybalka.  With endnotes by those gentlemen as well as by its translator Brian Harper.   Brian also wrote a beautiful introduction to his translation.  Also interesting to note, is that Chapman who is British, for sure has his national language in "Mood Indigo," while "Foam of the Daze" is very much American English.   A slight difference, but it's interesting to note that.  Vian had an appreciation for British literature (for instance Nicolas is based partly on P.G. Wodehouse's Jeeves) but yet, I feel that American English is the proper language use in Vian's translated works in English - especially with respect to his Vernon Sulllivan novels which takes place in America - which ironically enough, Vian never visited the States.    In the nutshell it is a lot of fun to read both translations side-by-side, and its easy to do, due to the fact that the chapters are short and concise.   Movie or no movie, it is great that the Stanley Chapman translation is out - and without a doubt "L'écume des jours is an excellent book - wharever it is translated by Chapman or Brian Harper - it's a classic and it reads well in  (both translated versions) in English.

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