Hello everyone, today I am very excited to share a guest post by the editor for Orenda Books, West Camel.
When PI Varg Veum is approached to find a missing girl, by a half-sister he barely knew, his investigation takes him deep into the dark web, and some personal history he’d rather forget…
Varg Veum receives a surprise visit in his office. A woman introduces herself as his half-sister, and she has a job for him. Her god-daughter, a 19-year-old trainee nurse from Haugesund, moved from her bedsit in Bergen two weeks ago. Since then no one has heard anything from her. She didn’t leave an address. She doesn’t answer her phone. And the police refuse to take her case seriously.
Veum’s investigation uncovers a series of carefully covered-up crimes and pent-up hatreds, and the trail leads to a gang of extreme bikers on the hunt for a group of people whose dark deeds are hidden by the anonymity of the Internet. And then things get personal…
Chilling, shocking and exceptionally gripping, Big Sister reaffirms Gunnar Staalesen as one of the world’s foremost thriller writers.
Guest post by Orenda Books Editor, West Camel
In a typical Varg Veum novel, Gunnar Staalesen invites the reader inside the office of his private investigator, and from there she accompanies him as he seeks out the truth of whatever case has been brought to his door.
It is a classic crime-fiction format: the reader is privy to as much information as the investigator, follows his thinking and has the opportunity to pit her wits against him … or can just sit back and admire as he untangles the plot. However, Staalesen also uses the form to create an intimate relationship between the reader and VV. Over the course of twenty books we have come to know his strengths and failings, the delights and tragedies that have shaped him, and, probably most importantly, the unique mind of one of the most compelling characters in crime fiction.
But how can English-speaking readers become as acquainted as Norwegians with such a specific person – a Norwegian man in late middle age, specifically from Bergen, sometime alcoholic, father, quasi-widower, ex-social worker, justice seeker and lone wolf (‘varg’ means ‘wolf’ in Norwegian)?
The answer is through a close working relationship between Staalesen, his translators – most recently, the great Don Bartlett – and his editors, of which I am one.
Staalesen has invested Varg with idiosyncratic spoken and internal dialogue. To lose any of this would itself be a crime; so it is up to Don, in conversation with Gunnar, and with the editor alongside, to recreate the flavour of the original Norwegian. The closing lines of the first chapter of Big Sister is the perfect example of how this works. Varg is musing on the renovations to his Bergen office, and how, while the building has changed considerably, his work and his attitude towards it hasn’t.
Everyone was welcome to bring whatever they had on their minds.It took a lot to surprise me. Unless they came from Haugesund and said they were my sister.
Thus, with characteristic deftness, economy and quiet humour, Gunnar introduces the main theme of the novel, creates narrative tension and gives us a completely new angle on his protagonist. And all of this has to be transmitted in English. In my conversations with Don, I’ve discovered he does this by getting to know Varg intimately – in the same way the reader ultimately will:how the voice reads in English is guided by Don’s understanding of Varg the man.
Varg Veum also has a close knowledge of his city, his country and its people, and has a clear take on social issues. Much of this comes from Staalesen himself. But he is writing for Norwegians, so a kind of shorthand is inevitable – Norwegians don’t need the finer points of their country’s welfare system, open tax records, drinking culture, or religious history explained to them. English speakers might be baffled though. And this is where the discussions between the editor and translator can become quite fervent.
In Big Sister a key character is resident at an institution run by something called the Inner Mission. This is an evangelical Christian group, originally from Germany. While it’s widely known in Norway, in the UK, other similar Christian groups are more prominent. My suggestion as an editor was to offer the reader a little explanation – in order that English readers were apprised of the religious nature of the group at the same point Norwegians were. For the translator too long an explanation sounded patronising: surely readers would grasp what the Inner Mission was – it’s well known in Norway, and in the US too. Elegant compromise – what much of translating and editing is about – was achieved. Two words of explanation were added to the text (see if you can find them!).
Big Sister represents Gunnar Staalesen at the peak of his powers. In my view Don Bartlett has done his usual sterling job of recreating this bravura performance … and I hope my input has helped it reach the hands of the English speaking reader intact.
I would like to thank West Camel for taking the time out of his schedule to write a guest post for Breathing Through Pages!
Gunnar Staalesen was born in Bergen, Norway in 1947. He made his debut at the age of 22 with Seasons of Innocence and in 1977 he published the first book in the Varg Veum series. He is the author of over 20 titles, which have been published in 24 countries and sold over four million copies. Twelve film adaptations of his Varg Veum crime novels have appeared since 2007, starring the popular Norwegian actor Trond Epsen Seim. Staalesen, who has won three Golden Pistols (including the Prize of Honour), lives in Bergen with his wife. When Prince Charles visited Bergen, Staalesen was appointed his official tour guide. There is a life-sized statue of Varg Veum in the centre of Bergen, and a host of Varg Veum memorabilia for sale. We Shall Inherit the Wind and Where Roses Never Die were both international bestsellers.