Reading Workout: Fiction in Translation

Flex those literary muscles and expand your reading horizons by picking up a book that you might normally shy away from. That’s the theme of our reading workouts, where we challenge you to step outside your reading comfort zone.

This month we’re delving into fiction-in-translation. From the streets of Paris to the coast of Columbia, venture beyond your reading shores into the thriving world literature scene with just a few of our translated favourites.

Eleanor recommends…

Exposed by Jean-Philippe Blondel, trans. by Alison Anderson
(9781939931672, New Vessel Press, p/b, £12.99)

On the verge of retirement, a French teacher visits a glamorous exhibition opening featuring the artwork of one of his former students, who has achieved fame and celebrity since they last knew each other. This unexpected encounter leads to the older man posing for his portrait, possibly in the nude, marking the start of a strange and intensely emotional intimacy between artist and sitter. It is only by reckoning with the past that the two characters can move ahead to the future, but they must navigate this unexpected closeness first. This brilliant psychological thriller is marked by profound nostalgia, and sees Blondel return to the magic that garnered him such acclaim for his 2015 novel The 6:41 to Paris.

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Pretty Things by Virginie Despentes, trans. by Emma Ramadan
(9781936932276, The Feminist Press, p/b, £14.99)

Twins Claudine and Pauline have always been mismatched – Claudine is the beautiful one, and Pauline the ugly one. But when Claudine wants to be famous, she enlists Pauline’s angelic singing voice to the cause, and they pretend to be the same person. Yet just as things get going, Claudine commits suicide. In taking on her dead sister’s identity, reading her letters, living in her apartment, inhabiting her, Pauline slowly starts to realise the cost her sister paid on the inside, in order to dazzle on the outside. This wickedly fun, dark, pulpy tale of the price of femininity in a misogynistic world was adapted into a film in 2001, winning the Prix Michel d’Ornano.

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The Basel Killings by Hansjörg Schneider, trans. by Mike Mitchell
(9781913394547, Bitter Lemon Press, p/b, £8.99)

It is the end of October in the titular northern Swiss city, and Police Inspector Hunkeler finds a corpse of someone he knows on his way home, slit from ear to ear. Though the rest of the force, as well as the media, chalk this up to the work of an Albanian drug smuggling gang, Hunkeler thinks he knows different – drawn to the similarities between this crime and another. Following his intuition, the trail he traces leads down to a dark world of bars, bordellos and strip clubs, but also into the corrupt core of some of Basel’s political and industrial elite. This is the first novel available in English from the highly-acclaimed Police Inspector Peter Hunkeler series, written by a well-known Swiss author and playwright. Having been awarded the prestigious Friedrich Glauser Mystery Prize for crime fiction in German, Bitter Lemon is bringing this dark, politically-aware mystery to a new audience.

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Liam recommends…

The Bitch by Pilar Quintana, trans. by Lisa Dillman
(9781912987054, World Editions, p/b, £9.99)

On Colombia’s Pacific coast, in a shack overlooking the sea buffeted by storms, Damaris is thinking about adopting a puppy. She and her fisherman have no children and she is at the age when, as her uncle puts it ‘women dry up’. In this poignant mediation on motherhood and love, beauty and dread feed into one another as Damaris realises that the dog will bring more than just affection into her home.

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We Trade Our Night for Someone Else’s Day by Ivana Bodrožić, trans. by Ellen Elias-Bursać
(9780995580770, Seven Stories UK, p/b, £10.99)

The city of Vukovar, situated on Croatia’s easternmost periphery was the site of some of the worst violence in the wars that rocked ex-Yugoslavia in the early 1990s. In this taut political thriller it is referred to only as “the city”, where fences in schoolyards separate the children of Serbs from those of Croats, and city leaders still fight to free themselves from the things they did or allowed during the war a generation ago. Against this backdrop Nora, a journalist assigned to do a puff piece on the perpetrator of a crime of passion, struggles to separate her own past from the story.

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Look At Me by Mareike Krügel, trans. by Imogen Taylor
(9781925603354, Text Publishing, p/b, £10.99)

Katharina’s husband isn’t coming home for the weekend – again. While he’s gone, their daughter Helli gets a nosebleed at school, their son Alex announces he’s bringing his new girlfriend home for the first time, and Kat’s best friend from college is coming for a visit. Kat wonders if she should try to seduce him – but first she needs to do the shopping, the cleaning, help find the neighbour’s severed thumb in the front yard… the list goes on. In between, she tries not to think about the lump she’s just found in her breast – because you can’t just die and leave a huge mess for someone else to clean up, can you?

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If anything you’ve read about on our blog catches your eye, consider ordering from your local bookshop. Find yours here. Alternatively, you can browse your favourite indies on

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