Translation and permission

Sometime in the early-mid nineties, in a long-gone bookshop in the (disquiet-relevant) basement of the Fishergate Shopping Centre, just over the road from Preston railway station, I picked up a copy of the Serpent’s Tail edition of “The Book of Disquiet”. It was, I think, the second Serpent’s Tail printing, with a purplish cover, rather than the handsome Vaughan Oliver designed first edition. I’m not sure, I upgraded to the Vaughan Oliver edition years ago and gave the other one away.
I know there are several translations of “The Book of Disquiet”, and I am in no position to even speculate which is “the best”; a brief flick through each that I’ve seen leaves me thinking that none is bad. What I can say is that I’ve always thought of the Margaret Jull Costa translation as “my” edition.

I should add at this point that I am a great admirer of Margaret Jull Costa’s translation: I read rather a lot of novels translated into English and I think her translations regularly stand out as beautiful writing in their own right.

When I had the idea for this project, which I suppose was in 2012 or 2013, I discussed it with various friends, without any sense of whether it might be possible to be given permission to reproduce the work. It turned out that I knew someone who knew Margaret Jull Costa, and they put me in touch with her; Margaret thought the idea a good one but explained that the rights to her translation remain with the publisher, Serpent’s Tail; she helpfully put me in touch with them.

I am delighted to say that Serpent’s Tail “got” the idea too, and (although there’s really nothing in it for them, and I was asking them to do me a favour) they kindly granted me permission to use a subset of the book. The day I received confirmation that they’d granted me the rights was a very happy day, and I’m extremely grateful to them.


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