26 January 2012

Richard Ayodade's Submarine (2010), Joe Dunthorne, and an Oulipian digression

Submarine is a coming-of-age story set in 1980s Swansea, Wales, and the socially inept 15-year-old Oliver Tate (Craig Roberts) wants to lose his virginity to his girlfriend Jordana (Yasmin Paige), although he's also very concerned that the marriage of his parents – the extremely constipated Lloyd (Noah Taylor) and Jill (a slightly exaggerating Sally Hawkins) – is threatened by Jill's relationship with her old flame Graham (Paddy Considine), a new age performer.

With parents like these, Oliver can perhaps be excused the problems he has communicating, excused his self-absorption, and even excused his hopelessly misguided attempts to solve problems.

The obvious references have been made by critics – Nouvelle Vague cinema influence, Catcher in the Rye, Woody Allen, Roeg's evil dwarf in Don't Look Now, Adrian Mole, etc. The film works because it's (sometimes rather blackly) funny, because it's well acted (especially by Roberts and Paige), because Ayodade is so assured (occasionally too much so), and because Alex Turner's music is wistful and in keeping with the period.

Now, who's Joe Dunthorne? He wrote the novel (his first) on which this movie is based, which was published in 2008, and as far as I can tell (not having read it) the movie seems to be faithful to it. Dunthorne was a contributor to a collection of poems published under the title Generation txt, and he now has a new novel, Wild Abandon, which is set in the early 1990s, and apparently also has two suberb young people. I'll look out for that.

Interestingly, Dunthorne is also an admirer of Georges Perec, and his short article in the Guardian on three Perec translations is
here. However – and coming a little later is one of my grouses that I may have made before but if so it bears repeating – Dunthorne calls Gilbert Adair's A Void (a translation of Perec's La Disparition) a 'virtuoso translation'. I assume that Dunthorne has read both the original and the translation, otherwise his statement wouldn't make sense. One of the other translations he mentions is Ian Monk's The Exeter Text, which Monk translates from Perec's Les Revenentes. Monk, like Perec, belongs to Oulipo (which Perec still does, even though he's dead), but his verdict on Adair's translation is very different: he says that he 'found it an amusing work in its own right but, as a translation, frankly disappointing'. And he goes on to state his reasons for this, which are very interesting, particularly (for me) the fact that Adair missed the French pangram, and his 'translation' of it renders the sentence meaningless as such. You'll have to scroll a little, but any reader of Adair's book should read this. Rant over, and yes, I know I've highjacked my own post.

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