October 25, 2011

Interview With Translator: I Hate Hockey's Peter McCambridge

I recently had a chance to sit down with Peter McCambridge, Francois Barcelo's translator for the new book I Hate Hockey.

In my book review I expressed some concerns about some of the plot lines in the book. McCambridge answers my questions about that, the main character's flaws and the challenges in translating a book.

Buy The Book: Amazon.ca - Chapters
You can also purchase the original book in French - J'haïs le hockey

Aside from the fact that our narrator obviously hates hockey and that his son plays the game, how is this a hockey book?

I Hate Hockey might not be a “hockey book” in the sense that the narrator devotes whole chapters to the Summit Series, but it is most definitely a hockey novel. By that I mean that Canada’s game is a character in the book. The book wouldn’t be the same if it was called I Hate Soccer or I Hate Lacrosse. It just wouldn’t work. As it is, it is hockey that separates Antoine Vachon from his wife, his son, his boss and ultimately everyone around him. Hockey is the one sport that brings all Canadians together and instead our anti-hero finds himself with his back to the TV in a sports bar, asking for the sound to be turned down. Even a trip to the Bell Centre isn’t the bonding experience he had hoped for with his son. Any other sport wouldn’t have the same impact on the narrator’s life, the power to act as a wedge between him and the rest of society. (This aside from the fact that the entire plot is driven by what happens when our narrator is roped into coaching his son’s hockey team for the evening and that one of the six chapters is devoted to that particular game.)

The book has some pretty dark issues, such as racism, murder, underage sex and suicide. Why does the author explore these topics to build the narrator's character?

I wouldn’t want to answer for the author here and I’m not sure he’s making any comments on the sport in particular. What I would say is that the novel is a dark comedy. Unlikely though it may be, François Barcelo manages to find plenty of potential for comedy in these dark issues. If you like to laugh at characters as much as with them, if you like to enjoy a chuckle as you think “Oh my God, did he really just say that? Does he honestly think that? Did that really just happen?” then it’s packed full of laughs. I read and reread the novel a good half dozen times over the course of translating it, and I was still giggling away to myself by the end. Which isn’t to say the whole thing is just for laughs. The novel deals with some really serious issues, as you say, and ultimately the reader is left shaken and uncomfortable. Which isn’t a bad state to be left in by any novel, is it?

As for building the narrator’s character, maybe “building” is the wrong word. I don’t think he learns very much over the course of the novel at all. Which is, of course, the source of the tragedy. And the comedy.

Our narrator is quite a flawed character. Not a very likeable sort. Should we feel sorry that all these terrible events are happening to him?

Antoine Vachon is most definitely an anti-hero. In many ways he is the anti-hero much loved by (but by no means unique to) Quebec fiction. He is a racist, xenophobic, sexist pig—and all the funnier for it (it’s a dark comedy, remember?). And despite all his flaws we find ourselves rooting for him throughout the novel. We might be shocked at some of his behaviour, repelled even, but at the end of the day I find it a fun read following him on his hapless whodunit as he puts two and two together and more often than not comes up with anything but four.

Who should read this book?

The easy answer is: “Anybody who loves—or hates—hockey!” I would also add, “Anyone who’s looking for a great Christmas gift!” But the real answer is probably, “Anyone who likes a good read.” Unlike so many novelists these days, François Barcelo doesn’t let good writing get in the way of a good story. I Hate Hockey is a quick, pacy thriller with one twist in the plot after the next. In short, stuff happens. Most of it, outrageous.

What were the challenges for you in translating this book from French to English?

To be honest, the whole novel was a joy to translate. It took me a chapter to find the narrator’s “voice” and to come up with a balance of crudeness and swearing that I was comfortable with in English. There was one tricky pun I can think of, but other than that the whole experience was just great fun.

Do you think this book will be as big a hit in English Canada as it is in Quebec?

I think that, without a ton of luck on your side, it’s tricky for any book to be a hit without a big marketing machine behind it. But they also say that cream rises to the top, and I think this book deserves to (that’s why I choose to translate it, after all). It’s not going to change your life and it’s much more bitter than sweet, but it’s a damn good way to put in an evening—when there’s no hockey on TV, of course!

Buy The Book: Amazon.ca - Chapters
You can also purchase the original book in French - J'haïs le hockey


The Girlfriend.,  November 1, 2011 at 12:44 PM  

I have read this book and still horrified by the content. You failed to mention that one of the young youths who commited suicide (spoiler alert!) was a young femaile who was RAPED by her hockey coach and as a result became pregnant. This is NOT a book I would recommend ANYONE to read, especailly those with children or those who work with children who are victims of abuse. How the translator can say this is a "dark commedy" is well and beyond me. It made me sick to my stomach and I am still very angry that I even read this book!

Peter McCambridge December 15, 2011 at 5:10 PM  

Hi, The Girlfriend!

First, thanks for buying the book. I really admire this novel and the author and hope that as many people outside of Quebec get to read it as possible.

Second, God I really hate spoilers - especially inaccurate ones.

Third, I have a very young daughter and I still love this book. But fair play to you if you hated it. People have the right to hate whatever they like (even hockey, eh?).

Fair enough, the humour is very dark and may not be to everyone's taste, but I certainly don't find it offensive. Disturbing yes, but not offensive.

For those of you who might be curious to learn what the book is really like, you can read all the reviews we've had ("A brisk and often disturbing piece of fiction .... The literary equivalent of a sudden-death shootout – tense, unpredictable, and over before you know it!" ... "A sad and bleak book, riddled with humour both broad and pointed. I found it to be a true satire (vicious at times, as satire must be) of life in contemporary Québec.") at facebook.com/ihatehockey. You can also read the first chapter for there for free too.

All the best,
Peter McCambridge,
I Hate Hockey translator

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