A book that suffers from its translation


I’ve read Mhari McFarlane before, in translation into Swedish. Usually I avoid translations from English into Swedish whenever possible. Because why would you read a translation if you don’t have to? I.e., translations tend to not be great. Basically, I’m a translator who doesn’t believe in translation. That’s probably a brilliant starting point.


For whatever reason I read It’s not me it’s you in Swedish and it was not bad. It didn’t read like a translation at all. It had flow for sure.

The translation of You had me at hello though, it’s making it difficult to focus on the story and not getting caught up in strange translation choices. Which is weird, because the title is spot on; the translator has really stepped away from the literal meaning of the title and picked a line from a popular Swedish song and the meaning of the words make sense with the story too.

The story is basically an Elizabeth + Darcy type love story, and you can tell in English it reads really well. What more could you want?!

The Swedish translation though.

First of all, we need to talk about main character Anna’s profession. She works at uni, apparently she’s supervising students and giving lectures. She has a PhD. I don’t need to know what the English word used is, but it’s definitely not translated as föreläsare in Swedish. I could give you a number of reasons but bottom line is: we don’t hire föreläsare at uni. We don’t. Especially not people with a PhD. She’s a lektor. 100 percent. Repeatedly seeing her referred to as föreläsare drives me insane.

I’m not blaming the translator; you can’t be familiar with all fields in life. You just can’t. But come on, it’s not that difficult to just grab random person from uni, I’m sure even a student would do, and ASK. They could all tell you. Föreläsare are people you hire for conferences, I would say usually entrepreneurs, and they come with all sorts of training. Not hired at uni though. Definitely not to supervise students.

And just to make sure that we all get that university is not a world the translator is familiar with, she throws in this little nugget Hon kommer alltså att jobba heltid när du bestämmer dig för att bli filosofie magister? 

Uh-huh. Filosofie magister isn’t something you become in Swedish, it’s a degree prefix, it’s in no way a profession. I should know, I have it. Means nothing.

Here’s another favorite: han ser ut som en slipprig kikärt. A what now!? I have literally no idea what this could mean. Other than no Swedish person read through this text before publication. Not a chance.

Also love the misuse of the word omsorg. Again. I don’t need to see the ST to know that’s simply an incorrect choice. And I don’t use the word incorrect to describe translations lightly. I’m a firm believer that there are many possible translations, and talking about a “correct translation” is for the most part daft. In this case though, I’m willing to call this just wrong.

Towards the end, it’s as if the translator has just given up on it all. The language has no flow what so ever. It reads kind of like this Hon brukar bege sig dit när en kris uppstår.

Yes. That’s a very natural and not at all stiff way to speak in Swedish. If this is a movie from the 1950s.

What I’m trying to say can be summed up as:

Dear HaperCollins,

Do you think you could maybe consider having all of your Swedish translations proofed by an actual Swedish-speaking Swede? Just a thought

I don’t want you to get the wrong impression, I did like this book. I like McFarlane’s characters, and I’m so sure in original the dialogue reads beautifully, and it’s a story that just sucks you in.


It’s problematic.

First of all. Anna falls in love with a boy, James, who clearly bullied her when she was a kid in school. He did something truly horrible to her. I don’t care if he’s changed, how can you possibly see past that unless you really, really hate yourself?

Sure, James seems changed. It’s easy to see the appeal of adult James. Especially when compared to his villain friend. And sure, you shouldn’t hold grudges, but doesn’t the mere sight of a person who at one point did something horrible to you make you think of that every time?

Then there’s the beauty thing.

The way I understood It’s not me it’s you, McFarlane is interested in heroines that don’t quite fit into the beauty norm. Anna is basically described as curvy, but really she’s really a classic beauty underneath, promise!!! Whereas James has more in-your-face good looks. Both of which bores the hell out of me. I don’t even understand why it’s relevant.

At the same time, we should admire James for his ethics, for realizing beauty isn’t everything, as he finally leaves his wife when he understands that beauty is everything she’s got, beyond looks she’s just a vicious person.

You can’t have it both ways. You can’t go on about how your two main characters are just stunning, but then having one character be the villain because she (and it’s important that it’s a she) is too beautiful.

Or well. It is a very true illustration of what it’s like to be a female in this world: there’s no winning. You mustn’t be too feminine, but oh you mustn’t forget that you’re a woman! Unfortunately I don’t think that was what McFarlane was aiming for.

Maybe I was wrong, maybe I didn’t like this book? I seem to be arguing that if I had read it in English I would probably have been a fan of the language. Period.

I wouldn’t discourage anyone from reading it, let’s leave it at that. There are far worse books in this world, a lot of which are probably on your reading list already.


3 thoughts on “A book that suffers from its translation”

  1. Haha! Jag läste den här för nått år sen, och jag måste klistra in vad jag tydligen tyckte om den då, fast det är lite långt:

    Till att börja med påminner berättaren HELA TIDEN om att hon brukade vara tjock och att hon har dåligt självförtroende än på grund av det (faktiskt ännu värre, hon tycker att hon inte har något värde alls som person eftersom hon brukade vara tjock, och kan inte förstå att någon över huvud taget skulle vara det minsta intresserad av henne – eftersom hon brukade vara överviktig). Det gör också att ungefär alla andra i hela boken tillbringar tiden med att tala om att hon faktiskt är snygg och att alla vill ha henne. Så det känns ju… mindre roligt?

    Lägg till det att hennes värste mobbare blir kärleksintresset. Till en viss det kan jag kanske sympatisera med det (ge folk en andra chans) men hon konfronterar honom inte förrän andra hälften av boken. Han känner inte igen henne utan flörtar till och med, och HON SPELAR MED. Samtidigt som hon klagar till sina vänner och familj över att han kommit in i hennes liv igen. Va? Va?!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ja, ja! Jag tror det hela kan sammanfattas som Alltså, WTF?? Och det är så synd för så mycket annat med boken är bra. Hon är ju bra på att berätta en historia och det är ändå mycket värt, men alltså va fan. Utseendefixering och idén att man skulle tycka att vara tillsammans med ngn som mobbat en är en bra idé. Man vill nästan skaka om Anna och skrik har du ingen självkänsla människa! Du är bättre än så här!

      Liked by 1 person


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