It’s not often that you read a book that seems to be written at least partly with you in mind. Kate Briggs’s This Little Art, from Fitzcarraldo Editions, is about translation. That simple declaration says nothing about the suspense, humour, pacing, revelation and recognition a reader — this reader, at least, found in it. At the heart of the text is Briggs’ experience of translating Roland Barthes’s lecture notes for The Preparation of the Novel, a course of lectures cut short when Barthes was killed in a traffic accident. Briggs shares her joys and doubts, observations, speculations and determination as she goes about her work. The writing takes on a form I’ve never encountered before — not fiction, but with tools of strategic repetition, scene-setting, detective work. It becomes a splendid adventure, and a kind of tacit permission to let all those frequent exursions — on-line, in the library, in questions to fellow English-speakers become their own story.
(The image is a detail from a design by Alphonse Mucha).