Prose Translations

Finding Voice in Text: Continuing Andrew Cowan’s ‘What I Know’

This week, we’ve been talking about voice. What does voice mean in literature? How can we find it? What constitutes an author’s voice? And how can we replicate it in translation?

I’ve taken the first page of Andrew Cowan’s novel What I Know, which I know nothing about, and continued it for another page or two, attempting to replicate the author’s and narrator’s voice. It reads like your average white man having a mid-life crisis novel, apart from the deeply creepy, voyeuristic undertones:


Our impressions on first viewing were of tightness and gloom, and even at that time, with our second son growing inside of her – not that we yet knew it would be our second son – I had looked at the grey shadows of damp in the corner of the ceiling and at the tiny flecks of black mould huddled in the grouting on the window frames and considered running. I considered pushing past the bewildered, mousy estate agent and bursting out onto the street. I considered running, in either direction, past the rows of narrow, cloistered red-brick boxes with paltry front gardens. But I didn’t, and we bought the house. I convinced myself I saw a flash of sympathy in that mousy estate agent’s eye as she handed me the key. That was nearly seven years ago. I wasn’t brave enough to run, but I wasn’t brave enough to stay properly either. I like to convince myself that I’ve done my fatherly duties. Sometimes I even do my husbandly ones, too. 

Why did I stay? Cowardice? Shame? Societal pressure? Some potent mix of all three?

I shift my head to the side a little to follow her trajectory across her bedroom. I wonder if she noticed me felling the trees. There’s now a space where they used to be. The girl is reaching into the wardrobe and pulling out a towel. She leans forwards, her breasts forming pendulums reminiscent of my vertical wife. She wraps the towel around her hair with a few deft twists, fixing it in place with the same pink plastic clips that Jan leaves on the edge of the bathtub. No, with her arms above her head, her breasts look smaller and tighter.

My attention wanders when she begins to dress. It’s around midday. The clock on the wall marks the seconds. The boys are at school. They gave me childishly homemade cards this morning, and I pretended to enthuse. A spiky 4, an imperfect 0 a sagging oval. Jan has gone out, presumably to fetch me a present after forgetting again. Aren’t husbands supposed to forget these things? Isn’t that my sacred dereliction of duty? I’ve taken the day off, but needn’t have bothered. The world is no more exciting from the dining room floor.

By annaputsover

Translator and English tutor

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