Pierre Mertens in Two Lines: Landmarks

November 22nd, 2013 § 0 comments § permalink

Two Lines - Landmarks

Failure is one of my favorite themes, and marks many of my favorite stories, from The Great Gatsby to The Venture Bros. Landmarks, the latest volume of Two Lines, that estimable annual from San Francisco’s Center for the Art of Translation, is now out. Edited by Susan Bernofsky and Christopher Merrill, it features my translation of the story “What Happened to You?” by Pierre Mertens, a sophisticatedly bitter rumination on the promise of youth and its wastrel sequels. My translations of a chapter from Patrick Besson’s historical novel The Brotherhood of Consolation and François Ayroles’ short comic “I’m So Happy…” appeared in Two Lines XV: Strange Harbors and Two Lines XVI: Wherever I Lie is Your Bed, respectively.

Born in 1939, Pierre Mertens is Francophone Belgium’s perennial Nobel hope. He has published more than thirty works of fiction, drama, and essays. A specialist in international law known for his involvement in human rights, he runs the Center for the Sociology of Literature at the Université Libre de Bruxelles, and is a literary critic for Le Soir. His first novel, L’Inde ou l’Amérique (Seuil, 1969), won the Prix Rossel, Belgium’s top literary prize. His novel on German Expressionist poet and Nazi collaborator Gottfriend Benn, Les Éblouissements (Seuil, 1987), was awarded the Prix Médicis and translated by Edmund Jephcott as Shadowlight (Peter Halban, 1997). His novel Une paix royale (Seuil, 1995) earned him a libel lawsuit from the Belgian royal family. He is a member of the Belgian Royal Academy of Language and Literature and a Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres of France.

Here’s an excerpt from the story:

During all this time, things had changed for me too, unexpectedly and in the other direction. While others failed, I climbed the rungs of renown. (As though I’d boarded a train through whose windows I could, with a lump in my throat, contemplate a train on another track, at first parallel, then veering off, growing distant in the mist, becoming a ghost train bound for nothingness. In the time it took to pick out faces once familiar, even beloved, their features blurred, crumpled. Were they soon to fade from memory?) Oh, I succeeded almost despite myself. Without putting too much stock in it. First to be surprised… My life was turned completely upside down. Far too completely. Yet not completely enough, I suppose. As recently as last year, on the Rue de Verneuil, I ran into Patrice Bergeron, my best friend from the Lycée St.-Exupery in Lyon, who launched right into the story of his life, his marriage, his divorce, his layoff as advertising agency exec, and then, in fine, asked me no doubt from mere politeness, “But hey, old pal, what happened to you?”

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