Spooky Literature in Translation
Autumn is in full swing, bringing with it arguably one of the best times of the year – Spooktober is here. It’s the time for cosy nights in, and doing what all bookworms like the most, reading!
For this reason, our Literature in Translation team have put together a slew of mini reviews and recommendations of eerie translated books that are bound to leave you in the mood for some sinister and spine-chilling literature.
What better way to get in the Halloween spirit?
The Flowers of Evil (1857) (Translated by Anthony Mortimer) and Paris Spleen (1869) (Translated by James McGowan – Charles Baudelaire
Charles Baudelaire, one of the most important French poets of the 19th century, can be considered a symbol of rebellion and hedonism, given his bohemian lifestyle and his disregard for societal rules and conformity. His most famous works, the poetry collection The Flowers of Evil and the prose collection Paris Spleen, both extensively explore sex, satanism, vampirism, drug abuse and decay. His literature is formed of dark and eerie recounts, in which he depicts horrific, but somewhat beautiful scenarios, rebelling against all conventions set at the time.
If gothic horror is your thing – think Edgar Allan Poe’s works – Baudelaire is the writer for you; not only was he a great admirer of the American writer, he also translated some of his works into French.
Some notable poems include ‘A Carcass’ where the poet finds an animal carcass while walking with his lover, the macabre ‘The Vampire’ and, lastly, ‘The Poison,’ in which the poet likens his lover’s eyes to poison, which have a drug-like effect on him.
The Black Spider (1842) – Jeremias Gotthelf. Translated by Susan Bernofsky
Faustian pacts, child sacrifices and demonic spiders can all be found within Jeremias Gotthelf’s unforgettably creepy novella, written over one hundred and fifty years ago while the Swiss author was – quite appropriately – working as a priest.
Opening with an idyllic christening party set on a remote German farm, Gotthelf’s frame narrative suddenly leaps back hundreds of years as the origins of an ancient blackened post which stands within one of the farmhouse’s window frames are recounted by the newly baptized baby’s grandfather.
The following feudal tale, concerning desperate and exploited peasants forced into a deal with the devil, is remarkably prescient – anticipating the horror and existential terror explored by many of the great writers of the 20th century. The Black Spider channels the cosmic terror of weird fiction, later cemented by writers such as H.P. Lovecraft, while simultaneously echoing Franz Kafka’s nightmarish allegories – all contained within a deceptively pastoral landscape.
Gotthelf’s tale defies easy interpretation, worming its way into your head where it will gnaw and scratch within the dark recesses of the mind. Arachnophobes best stay away.
An Autumn Story (1947) – Tommaso Landolfi. Translated by Joachim Neugroschel
The Second World War provides the backdrop for one of the most famous Gothic novels in Italian literature: An Autumn Story by Tommaso Landolfi. The novel was written immediately after the Second World War as if to exorcise its horrors.
As a member of the Resistance, the protagonist – who narrates the story – has been forced on the run for days. Finding a seemingly abandoned stately home, he enters, attracted by an unknown force. Inside he discovers an old man with a rifle and two apparently ferocious dogs; but the old man, albeit unfriendly, does not chase him away, aware that going out into the arms of the soldiers would be equivalent to a death sentence. The protagonist meets the painting of a woman and creates a personal narrative from it. There comes a time when reality departs from the novel, and the atmosphere becomes gothic and disturbing, dark and sinister. However, when reality abruptly returns, it is even darker and gloomier than the mystery.
It's a strangely linear novel, yet as bizarre as Landolfi can be, and it's terrific as it is.
The Unhomely, Strange and Creepy in Central and South American Literature
There is a rich vein of strange, uncanny and yet beautiful writing to be found within Central and Latin American literature. Being almost Halloween, why not read these macabre and eerie tales?
The unhomely is ever-present in stories ranging from double personalities within one body in Carlo Fuentes’ short yet magnetic Aura (trans. by Lysander Kemp) to a man’s arrival in a strange town where the dead rule in Juan Rulfo’s Pedro Paramo (trans. by Margaret Sayers Peden), or even a ghost story that imagines a ghost revisiting her old childhood stomping grounds in Carmen Boullosa’s Before (trans. by Peter Bush). Creepy charismatic ghosts haunt new builds in César Aira’s Ghosts (trans. by Chris Andrews), and eerie cold arsonist children and strange illusory characters populate Silvina Ocampo’s Thus Were Their Faces (trans. by Daniel Balderston). There are bird-eating kids and concrete head smashers aplenty in Samanta Schweblin’s Mouthful of Birds (trans. by Megan McDowell). Elsewhere, a schoolgirl yanks out her fingernails with her teeth in response to “what the man with slicked-back hair made her do” in Mariana Enríquez’ Things We Lost in the Fire (trans. by Megan McDowell), and even the innocuous relationship between an old cleaner and a child turns out to be full of uncanny absences in Carolina Sanín’s The Children (trans. by Nick Caistor).